Macalester Civic Forum: Leadership in the Age of Obama

The 2010 Civic Forum themed Civic Leadership in the Age of Obama was an exceptional educational experience for the members of B.R.E.A.K.I.N.  The overarching theme of the forum, civil leadership, is an important factor in global citizenship as defined by the members of this group.  It was inspiring to hear the many different ways that civic leadership is exemplified.  In particular, we identified with Callie Thuma’s presentation.

Callie focused on a local theatre teacher, Jan Mandel, from Saint Paul Central High School.  Jan uses the ‘black box’ to create a safe and engaging space where young people can express themselves through acting and original performances.  She founded Central Touring Theatre, a troupe of high school students who create and perform pieces developed from youth issues and themes.  As Callie told us, she actively addresses social, economic, racial and identity issues in her theatre class.  Her creative ways of education are changing conventions and deconstructing the “school to prison” pipeline.

How does Jan’s ‘black box’ address these issues? In her black box, student with different cultures, ethnicity and religion come together in a non-judgmental environment to express their feelings and their reality.  There is a role reverse of the traditional teacher and student role.  No one has the authority over ‘true’ knowledge.  Jan recognizes multiple intelligence and learning through various methods.  Some of the students were choreographing, some were designing the set and some were writing the script.  The result was a play that changed the students and the community.

KK, the founder of Tiny Toones, employs similar methods to educate the street kids of Phnom Penh.  He empowers the kids with the four elements of Hop Hop – Breaking, MCing, DJing, and Aerosol art – so that they can express themselves artistically rather than violently.  It allows the kids to express their views and beliefs creatively in an unconventional matter.  The dance floor at Tiny Toones is comparable to Jan’s ‘black box’.  It is a place with no ‘adult teacher’ figure to tell them what to do.  They learn and grow from each other.

Hearing the success of Jan’s example of civil leadership affirms our belief in what KK is doing.  It gave us confidence in our project.  If we can strengthen their capacity to operate, it would mean more kids get the opportunity to immerse in this engaging environment.  Furthermore, it showed us an alternative way of becoming a civil leader in which our passions are used in active education.  For Jan, it is theatre and for us, it is Hip-Hop.  Jan’s leadership shows us that a leader is someone who listens to the needs of the people and community, who organizes community and identifies self interests to meet self needs.

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