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DeLashea Strawder Talks About Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit’s Latest Show, Mwindo

DeLashea Strawder Talks About Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit’s Latest Show, Mwindo 1200 800 mosaic

Check out this video from My TV 20 Detroit of our very own DeLashea talking about our latest show, Mwindo! Head to our events page for more information on tickets.

Representation & the Importance of Black Stories

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One of the easiest ways to honor Black people and our culture is to recognize, partake in, buy, support, and appreciate their art. In a country that has historically taken from and exploited Black art without recognition, the burden often lies on Black people to create and support our own thing.

As we progress as a country, there seems to be this idea that representation politics don’t matter anymore–ie that we should stop celebrating Black people in higher positions/in the media, and just start expecting it. While I think this is an important viewpoint to have, especially in a time where sometimes pro-Blackness stops at representation without going further to actually create any change–mosaic’s youth have been teaching me that representation still matters to many young people.

Carsyn is one of the youngest members in Mosaic’s Acting company–12 years old– and she says that Mosaic is her second home. Because she sees herself represented in leadership, peers, other performers and musicians that work with the company, etc., she feels like it’s easier to be understood and listened to.

I got to chat with Carsyn Sunday, and she shared with me that seeing all-Black casts–or even majority-Black casts–telling Black stories is still powerful to her, especially as someone aspiring to be in their position one day.

“I honestly think it’s really beautiful that our Community can come together in the form of art and theater and choir, sharing their different stories and showing what it’s like to be who we are,” Carsyn shared with me. She says that it’s still more nuanced than just appreciating representation, though. Instead, Carsyn recognizes the power in telling Black stories to share the Black experience– “how we’re feeling, what we’ve been through, and our history” –and not just telling them because they’re fun shows to watch.

It’s important to honor Black art for what it is, which is oftentimes much deeper than what lies at the eye. Certain Black stories are to retain history and folklore, others to offer moments of healing and love, and sometimes Black art is created just to let other Black folk know they aren’t alone in their experience.

Carsyn’s focus on the power of Black people coming together and building community through art is much more powerful when we push past representation (which is also such an important concept to recognize) and see that we are also building each other up through the process.

Imani Harris is a 2018 alumna of the Mosaic Singers. She is currently finishing her Journalism and African American studies degrees at Northwestern University. Imani is passionate about using her voice and knowledge to share Black stories, and especially to support and illuminate all the beauty that exists in the Black community.

We Are the Celebration

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how we celebrate Black history month this year.

Whenever I ask young people, or anyone really, how they celebrate, they may talk about what they learned in school, what they’ve been watching on tv, or even maybe the ways that they engage with other Black people this month.

But one thing I don’t often hear is how they may be celebrating themselves and their own Blackness in February. Rarely does anyone speak to the ways that they are pouring into themselves, loving on themselves, learning about themselves, when it comes to a month supposedly dedicated to us. What does it mean to feel like celebrating Blackness doesn’t intrinsically mean celebrating yourself?

Then, I met Makayla, a student at Detroit Waldorf who seems to really be trying to personalize Black history month for herself this year. Instead of thinking about the ways that she’s traditionally learned Black history, Makayla is actively working to think about ways that she can daily acknowledge and strengthen her own connection with her Blackness, in ways like connecting to music through lyric analysis, watching speeches without an academic obligation, and more.

When I asked her how she liked to celebrate, Makayla spent a long time thinking, and even more time explaining that she didn’t really know what she should be doing to celebrate–or even if there was a should.

And that really got my mind spinning. How have we historically taught Black youth to celebrate this month in a way that means something for longer than this month? How can we use this month as a conversation-starter, and NOT the entire conversation, about loving your own Blackness and learning to see your identity as something that is worth exploring and celebrating?

I decided that this week I would work on a list of ways that I worked through my Blackness in high school, hoping that even one idea inspires another Black person to do the work this month on themselves. I also hope that this inspires those responsible for teaching us to think of different ways to make Black history personal to us–almost every student can tell me who Dr.Martin Luther King was, but I wonder if we could take that further and ask students how we see his values and dreams in our own lives.

Some Ways I Celebrate/Explore my Blackness

  1. Reading Black works/enjoying Black art
    • Toni Morrison, Zora Neal Hurston, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and bell hooks are just a few authors that I like to prioritize. I think it’s important to get a good mix of historical context that we can use to make sense of our experiences today. It might help you understand why you feel certain ways about something you see everyday, or even just help you see the world and yourself in it differently.
    • Makayla talked about how leaders in Mosaic didn’t just assign them Black songs to sing–they made them go through the lyrics line-by-line to think about what they meant. It’s easy to read an entire book, poem, song, etc. and never sit and think through what commentary the author, singer, etc. was trying to make. Try to think about these pieces in relation to yourself this month, and what ways you can relate them to your experience and personal growth, instead of just existing as something we read because the author is Black and amazing (which they (ALWAYS) are.
  2. Creating with other Black people
    • Makayla and I agreed that there is nothing more empowering than singing a song written for and by Black people, WITH other Black people. She told me about a song that the singers created using similes that filled in the phrase: “Black is like____,” or “Black is ____.” She says that this was one of the moments that stood out to her, especially when it was time to perform the song. It’s important to use Black history month as a moment to build community with people who look like you, and doing that through art is SUCH an unforgettable experience.
  3. Try to learn about someone/something you didn’t before
    • One message I’m constantly getting from young artists in Mosaic is that they learn about the same people every February in schools, at home, etc. I want us to start envisioning what it might look like for Black people to use this month as an opportunity to completely learn/unlearn something about Blackness, and then make a commitment to put this into action. Is there a concept you’ve never got to dig into? A book you’ve always heard about but never read? A skill you’ve always wanted to try but couldn’t? A person who’s name you heard once but forgot? Use this month to start looking into aspects of Blackness you may not have considered before, and I promise that you will grow in your own self-love and celebration, too.

My interview with Makayla really has me thinking about how we are teaching our young folks to think about, and participate in Black history month. This month wasn’t created to continuously prove that Black people have historically been great–it’s to acknowledge all that we have accomplished and done in order to welcome in and prepare for more!

I’m no expert in Black history, but I am fairly confident in the ways that I have learned to understand, celebrate, study and exude my Blackness.

Imani Harris is a 2018 alumna of the Mosaic Singers. She is currently finishing her Journalism and African American studies degrees at Northwestern University. Imani is passionate about using her voice and knowledge to share Black stories, and especially to support and illuminate all the beauty that exists in the Black community.

Black History Month – Seeing Things Different

Black History Month – Seeing Things Different 1200 800 mosaic

It’s Black history month again, and Mosaic’s young artists are seeing things differently than most.

Nadia, a student at Southfield Christian, told me a little about how she’s been thinking about Black history month. Instead of something we focus on only one month a year, or only tell certain perspectives of, she thinks it’s important to recognize that Black history is everyone’s history. It’s something we should be actively learning every day.

“In history class, the only time I hear about Black people it’s either slavery or Martin Luther “ King, and though those are very prominent times of Black history, it’s not the whole story,” she told me during our conversation. She brought up Black people’s role in the jazz era as one example, focusing on the fact that “when we only focus on those two points you get a really warped narrative that we’re only victims.”

Instead of focusing on only the past, the young artists at mosaic are excited to leverage Black History month to challenge all of us to recognize that Black history is being made every day. That we are all a part of Black history every day that we wake up. It isn’t confined to one chapter in a history book, or one month in the year, and it definitely isn’t stuck in one moment in time.

Nadia says that representation is just one way that we can continue honoring those who came before us, even when it isn’t Black History Month.

“I feel as though using art to encourage those who may be coming from other backgrounds who look like me that they matter and have the power to succeed and rise above expectations is important,” she told me.

It’s important for Nadia to use the resources that she does have, and to make sure that she represents “the people who look like her” in every space that she’s in. That’s just one of the ways that she finds a way to use her gift.

“Having the opportunity to do that {encourage others] with my voice is impactful, mainly because not everyone has access to the resources that I do.”

If I learned anything from Nadia, it’s that Black history month is way more nuanced than we used to think about it. And that’s okay–relieving even–because it means that it still matters. And that students are still demanding to show up and be seen and heard when it comes to their Blackness.

Imani Harris is a 2018 alumna of the Mosaic Singers. She is currently finishing her Journalism and African American studies degrees at Northwestern University. Imani is passionate about using her voice and knowledge to share Black stories, and especially to support and illuminate all the beauty that exists in the Black community.

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit Receives Donation from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit Receives Donation from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett 1200 800 mosaic

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit is humbly grateful to receive a transformational donation from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett. This gift will help Mosaic nurture and equip young artists to be leaders and life-long learners for years to come.

“We are incredibly honored and humbled to receive such a gracious gift from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett. To say this was a surprise would be the understatement of the year,” says DeLashea Strawder, Executive and Artistic Director. “This donation will help us pursue our strategic vision with greater fortitude in order to serve our community and develop young leaders through performing arts programming.”

“The work of Mosaic does not change because of this gift. We’ve been given a unique opportunity to be stewards and make an even bigger impact with our community because of it,” says Strawder.

This donation does not eliminate the need for support moving forward. In many ways, this gift helps catapult the pursuit of Mosaic’s vision to engage our community in even more profound ways through its strategic plan.

The pillars of Mosaic’s strategic vision include:

  • Expanding the Mosaic Family
    For nearly 30 years, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit has been able to serve its community at a local level and represent our community at a global level, with performances across the United States and various countries. Youth participants from 3rd through 12th grade learn life lessons through training in the performing arts. Some alumni decide to pursue careers in performing arts on Broadway or in Hollywood, while some take the lessons learned at Mosaic and apply them to business or other career paths. This gift will allow us to expand our program opportunities and increase the number of youth served.
  • Increasing Organizational Capacity
    Mosaic intends to use a portion of the donated funds to identify opportunities where greater capacity can help the organization serve its community and mission.

Mosaic values the opportunity to serve its community. Throughout the pandemic, Mosaic has been able to serve its community through virtual-based programming and performances. As the world opens again to public events, we are excited to return to the stage and conduct performances that delight, inspire, and cause our audience to think in new ways.

In keeping with the intent of the donor, Mosaic is choosing not to disclose the amount of this donation. For more information about Mosaic and its programming, please visit mosaicdetroit.org.

Read more from MacKenzie Scott about her donation here. 

Live From The BOOST Conference: Cultivating Thriving Youth And Organizations With DeLashea Strawder And Dalouge Smith

Live From The BOOST Conference: Cultivating Thriving Youth And Organizations With DeLashea Strawder And Dalouge Smith 1000 599 mosaic

The Why Change? Podcast is coming to you live from the BOOST Conference! Jeff M. Poulin chats with DeLashea Strawder – the Executive and Artistic Director of Mosaic Youth Theatre and recent Recipient of the 2021 Lewis Prize For Music – about innovative arts-based youth work in the BOOST podcast lounge. He also chats with Dalouge Smith, CEO of The Lewis Prize for Music about new models of philanthropy in music for social change programs.

DeLashea Strawder, Executive and Artistic Director, Mosaic Youth Theatre

DeLashea Strawder, Executive and Artistic Director, Mosaic Youth Theatre 1200 718 mosaic

By now, we know what creative arts can offer to young people’s lives, and taking center stage is Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. Its varied programming is meant to fuel artistic development, but also self-expression. DeLashea Strawder, Mosaic executive and artistic director, says, “We are a creative youth development organization supporting young people in the Detroit area, helping them to thrive, empowering them with the tools that they need to activate their voices to excel on stage and in life.”

Mosaic Youth Theatre hosts tiered, age-tailored programs of increasing intensity allowing young people to cultivate creative skills and, Strawder says, “really hone in on the story they want to tell and synthesize as they grow older.” The popular Youth Ensembles are year-long programs for which auditions are held once or twice a year. “As you participate in the program, your leadership training, your college and career pathways, and your artistic skills development continues to grow with you,” she says.

Read More…

An Update from Mosaic

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In light of recent developments related to the COVID-19 coronavirus and associated school closures, we continue to explore ways to support the health and wellness of young artists, team members, and the greater Detroit community. We are continuing to monitor the ever-changing information from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and local agencies alongside continued conversations with young artists, team members, families, and partners. As we honor the fact that this matter will continue to evolve we have come to the necessary though difficult decision to suspend all programming through April 5, 2020 and have our team work remotely through March 30, 2020.

In prioritizing safety, well being, health and leaning in to the power of community we are  working to establish creative ways to virtually support our young artists to keep them engaged and inspired as they practice social distancing. To that end I’m happy to share some of the ways we are doing just that:

  • online coaching sessions for rising seniors to get a jumpstart on college audition prep for Fall 2020;
  • online songwriting, table, and character work sessions
  • connecting youth and families to basic needs, academic and emotional support resources across Metro-Detroit.

We remain in conversation with the greater youth serving and arts & culture community community, to explore how we might be able to participate in the efforts to support youth and teaching artists.

We will continue to monitor the CDC and legislative directives, keeping youth, team members and partners informed of any and all changes.

Mosaic host Community Conversation to channel the importance of youth and people of color telling their own stories.

Mosaic host Community Conversation to channel the importance of youth and people of color telling their own stories. 1200 670 mosaic

On September 28, 2019, Mosaic will host a community conversation panel to coincide with our September Black Box production, It’s LIT: Celebrating Authors of Color.  Led by some of Detroit’s own authors of color,  Rochelle Riley, Jonathan J. Johnson, and Morgan Breon, audiences will engage in a powerful conversation that centers individuals as experts of their experience. The conversation is sought to empower individuals to give voice to their stories to help to change the way in which narratives are shaped and shared.

At a time when trends such as changing demographics and technological innovation are remaking the world at lightning speed, young people and other underrepresented groups’ ability to craft their own narratives and speak their truth will be key to helping society thrive. Mosaic’s is honored to bring together community members for a conversation on the beauty and impact of storytelling and the ways that the arts have created new opportunities to share a different perspective on the narratives of youth and people of color.  

It’s Lit will run from September 27-29th, the community conversation will be held on September 28 from 6:00-7:00 pm. Tickets can be purchased at www.mosaicdetroit.org/tickets

Intern Spotlight: Samuel Fairley

Intern Spotlight: Samuel Fairley 6000 4500 mosaic

This summer Mosaic has partnered with Grow Detroit’s Young Talent to create youth-based summer jobs. Young artists from across the entire Metro Detroit area wanting to get a chance to work with Mosaic applied. The young artists chose from a list of jobs and selected which job they wanted to apply for. After being accepted, they went through a three-day training and orientation program to prepare them for the hard work ahead. Every week we will feature an intern to get insight into their internship, their learning curve, and their experience.

Samuel Fairley is 17 years old and is going into his senior year of high school. He is a Main Stage singer with Mosaic. Mosaic’s Main Stage program immerses young artists, ages 12-18 through a year-long performance-based training program. These same young artists act as ambassadors for Mosaic and the city of Detroit. He has been singing for Mosaic for three years. When he graduates he hopes to Double major in Music Education and Communication. Our communications intern, Alise Sellers sat down with Sam to get insight on his internship and what he’s learned so far.

"I like Mosaic because it gives me a space to express myself through the arts."

Sam’s Favorites:

Favorite song: Extra by Lucky Daye

Favorite show: Grey’s Anatomy

Favorite movie: The Hunger Games series 

Favorite food: Potatoes

Who is your role model: Gregory Porter because he does both classical and contemporary music which is something I want to do. Also, he doesn’t let the industry influence who he is. He knows who he is and he isn’t afraid to show it.

 

Learn about Mosaic’s programs and their impact, experience a Mosaic rehearsal, tour our space, engage with community leaders, and enjoy an inspiring message from our keynote speaker at our upcoming Annual Meeting!