There often comes a point in life when one must choose to pave their own road, or follow one that has been laid out for them. Build Me A World (BMAW) can be described as an art collective working with black youths from the inner city of Chattanooga, Tennessee — and for many it has become a route to a better life.
Growing up in a lower income community can often leave its members feeling hopeless and trapped in a life they were born into. BMAW has created a positive environment for members of the Chattanooga community to tap into their creativity and tell their story through art. In essence, building and/or re-building a world.
The result: empowerment of participants by teaching and reminding a generation that they hold the power to create and live out their own stories.
This video provides a resonant glimpse at this process in motion:
We talked with directors of Build Me a World — Genesis the Greykid [Russell McGee Jr] and Chris Woodhull [bios] to find out more about their non-profit that is creating an outlet for authentic expression and influence. Below are excerpts and highlights from our conversation.
The two men discussed the importance of mentoring within underprivileged neighborhoods, noting that many young people they talk to lack ANY positive role models in their lives.
“Kids are growing up in these environments where everything’s in shambles… over time it creates this ‘I don’t care’ attitude” – Genesis the Greykid
Speaking on the disadvantages they face in Chattanooga, Chris touched on the common divide between blacks and whites, “The racial divide here is severe, palpable and it’s clear. I didn’t realize it could exist like this.”
BMAW focuses on combating the effects of geographical disadvantages and negative influences, and in the process, creating positive influencers to change their communities. Using art, they are giving the people of Chattanooga an opportunity to confront and work towards solving issues at hand, and also importantly learning to “feel through artistic expression.”
“Good art comes from really awake, aware, honest people” – Chris Woodhull
Build Me A World’s strategy [below] for reaching the community includes connecting creative community members with an art development / story-telling process that includes four fundamental pillars:
One example and central focus of BWAM’s work are the weekly TribeONE Meetings — which encourage a critical dialogue about life and community. Their website elaborates on the meetings:
“For some its an escape from the day to day realities that come with living in a hostile environment….for us here at BUILD ME A WORLD, [the meetings are] the meat and potatoes of the entire dish. If you can bring an awareness to self, a sense of consciousness in the room, it’ll reflect itself in the art….in the words…in the activist effort.” – buildmeaworld.com
BMAW has also created a series of videos called “Me In A Minute” where individuals tell their own stories in a succinct, powerful format. Poetic in their own way, these videos provide the viewer a small glimpse into the subjects’ lives — both past and present — and display emotion, raw honesty, and vulnerability that is often hidden under a tough exterior.
Below is Maurice McDowell: Me in a Minute [view others HERE]
On the topic of art, Genesis stated that “art is something that dives deep inside you.” When you listen to each artist, you can sense how important these stories are, and the power it takes to tell them. This raw unprocessed art and emotion creates something relatable for communities alike, but also shows how people can find positivity through art and empowering others.
“Storytelling is not just blurting out what you think is true, it’s discovering and digging into what is actually true” – Chris Woodhull
One can feel overwhelmed when speaking on serious matters such as these social injustices we face. But, Chris reminds us that these meetings are full of laughter and smiles saying “It has to be fun… humor has a very sharp eye on reality.”
When thinking about art we must remember that it comes in many forms: laughter, tears, song, and dance. It’s a form of communication Genesis considers the best conduit for change stating, “art creates a medium that a lot of people can connect with and in this way it can reach larger groups.”
Through Build Me a World, Genesis and Chris are helping young community members pave new roads, expressing their experiences through their words, sounds, videos, and art. BMAW plans to enter the New Year continuing their efforts to nurture the community through art, making a positive influence in more people’s lives.
A message from Genesis and Chris:
Some people say if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem…in reality it’s the other way around; if you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution. Only those intimately involved with the challenges are close enough to provide the necessary insight. That is what Cicero meant when he said, “the cure is in the poison.”It’s time to create new stories.Let’s build something great….together.
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Special contribution from Xavier Green.