When one door closes, another door opens. – Alexander Bell. This adage is pretty common. It is also quite empowering in the midst of frustration, disparity, and a needed dose of faith. You might ask, “What does this phrase have to do with Art & Creativity?” Well, let us consider the sort of door that is closing and the door that is being opened. Have you ever taken a look at the actual door? What if it needs fixing or there is no knob for you to twist and pull open? What if the door has a peephole or has unique phrases on it that encourages you to pound incessantly on it? How about this, as you are approaching the door you see a big sign that says, “STOP, RUN THE OTHER WAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN!” Bell’s adage reminds me of a line in Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. The character, Shug Avery, says to the protagonist, Celie, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” These phrases have everything to do with art and how it empowers us to be creative. We spend our lives working to pay for basic needs, exercise to stay relatively agile, and heal the body of any ailments, but then what – as if those items were not enough to keep you busy? I would say, “You stop and smell the roses, study the color purple, and stare at the doors that are closed and opened. Pretend you are a Jedi Knight and be ONE with the door.” Sometimes you do all of these activities simultaneously and sometimes you don’t. Why is this important? It is my belief that art helps us define the word beautiful. So imagine, if we become the artist, then beauty can be a self-actualizing revelation; and as such, it can empower and possibly heal.
I presently work with young women in a juvenile detention center located in Flint, Michigan – Genesee Valley Regional Center (GVRC). The women are between the ages of 10 and 17 years old. This center, as I have been told, is middle ground for the youth who are sent to GVRC. The facility is a temporary confinement, until a decision is made by the court system. The youth may either re-enter society or they may be sent to another facility.
The vision of this art program started with two women, Jen Sikora and Shelley Spivack. Together they wrote a grant to fund this 12-week pilot arts program set to begin September 2011. When the program was complete, we realized its importance, and Shelley (along with her team) sought financial support to sustain the program for another 8 weeks. Shelley, who is also a family court referee in Flint, explained, ”The GVRC program is important for these young women as it allows them to find their voice. Most of these girls have been physically and/or sexually abused or neglected. No one has really listened to their issues and concerns. They have landed in GVRC because they have acted out – often in response to their own victimization. This program gives them the chance to find their voice and to be heard.”
The pilot arts program initially included both genders. However, at the end of the program I wanted to work with only women because I wanted to have conversations about their lives without the presence of young men impacting how and why they spoke. I had noticed that one particular woman responded to the men in the room, whether they were paying attention to her or not. I also noticed that much of her writing had to do with a lack of relationship she had with her father. As well, she wrote about being loved by a man the way she hoped her father would love her. Primarily men were shaping this young woman’s identity. The majority of her writings and performances were about men, and this concerned me; especially the writing that talked in detail about physical and sexual abuse she had experienced. It was my observations of her that made me realize, I do not want any men in the room when we meet.
The weekly workshop that I co-facilitate with other writers revolves around spoken word art. In the sessions we use performance art as a way of helping the young women hone in on their voices to share their stories the way they wish to tell them. They carefully choose their words and begin honoring themselves as the creator of their stories. After all, who can tell your story better than you can? The more the women open up, the more empowered they become because they are not being told what to say and how to say it. They are naming themselves and speaking the kind of life they wish to live. The young women become the doors they wish to open. Some decorate the door and some turn the doors into windows. It is an amazing journey we are on!
I close with one of our young women who must remain unnamed for legal reasons. After being inspired by 2012’s 17 year-old Flint, Michigan Olympic goal medal boxer, Claressa Shields, this artist wrote a rhyme about being a boxer:
Bossing, yeah that’s me
See me in the ring call me knock out queen
I can ball so imagine that scene
Ima step out big money throwing that green
Graduated made it to college so I’m doin my thing
Proud of myself been clean since I was 15
Had pride and faith so I seen my dream
I ain’t got to have a tool so no need for a beam
Got some long term goals
Rich I’m on that road
Steppin to Olympics yeah
I’ma get that gold
And after I get that gold I’m going straight to the pros
My dreams Ima make it straight on my own
Thoughts of money now I’m in my zone
Doing this for lil Tony even though he gone
Doing this for Jodi Jo man I miss my bro
Ima be a pro gonna make it out the hood got a step to go
Alexander Graham Bell’s phrase is much longer. He contends, “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
I would say, “If we choose to stare at the door for a long moment, consider redesigning the door. Beautify the door. Create a door you can walk through, bust down, or remove the door completely so that you can reach the endless possibilities on the other side. The journey in doing this, in itself is artistic, creative and indeed empowering. But remember, the door has a role to play in your development, as well.”
Traci Currie is a Communication Studies lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years in many capacities: art gallery board member; overseeing a spoken word series for 5 years; performing nationally and internationally; published poet. She believes Phoenix Rising Collective will help young women reach their highest potential and pay-it-forward. “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.”
You can also read about Traci’s journey to self-love, as this contributing writer was also a LYFF feature: click here.
To learn more about our writing team, take a look here.