After many weeks of practice and preparation, a group of 12 Milwaukee Public Schools students traveled to Washington, DC to take part in the Turnaround Arts national talent show held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Their performance honoring Frederick Douglass drew cheers and a standing ovation from the audience.
The journey began in fall with the composition of an original musical piece. Ja’Rahn Leveston, a teacher from Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts, created and submitted his piece, called “200” in celebration of the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass. The song is written in the style of the hit musical Hamilton. After receiving the exciting news that the piece was accepted into the talent show, auditions were begun to select 12 students from the four MPS Turnaround Arts schools – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. African American Immersion School; Lancaster School; Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts; and Sherman Multicultural Arts School.
Vigorous fundraising and the work of the MPS Foundation made the trip possible by raising the nearly $13,000 needed to send students and chaperones to Washington. The group visited Frederick Douglass’ home in Virginia, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and had dinner at Bus Boys and Poets, a Langston Hughes-themed restaurant and book store.
In addition to the talent show at the Kennedy Center, students performed three times while in Washington – the first being flash mob-style at the airport. The group also performed at Frederick Douglass’ home and by request at the Bus Boys and Poets restaurant with other groups from the talent show.
“These students were on fire with passion for this piece and inspired by being in DC, where much of this history was made,” said Kari Hanson, MPS Turnaround Arts Manager. “They made us proud with their performance and their behavior – they were attentive, responsible, kind, and so open-minded. There was a group cohesion unlike any other group there. We made quite an impression with the Turnaround Arts national community.”
Turnaround Arts was initiated by the Obama Administration and provides arts support in high-need schools. It offers innovative arts, dance, theater and music programs; arts integration across subject areas; arts resources; musical instruments; and high-profile artist mentors. Turnaround Arts has improved attendance, math scores, and reading scores, and has decreased suspensions across participating schools nationwide.
MPS is grateful to the many donors who made this trip possible, as well as the families, schools, teachers, and staff who supported this event. It was truly a lifetime experience for 12 talented students.