Rally offers Pittsburgh Public Schools' youth chance to grow through art

A youth rally that began as a small gathering in the Hill District eight years ago promises a participation of 400 strong Tuesday.

The annual MGR Youth Rally for Change, which will be held this year at Pittsburgh Brashear High School in Beechview, will feature performances and artwork by students who partook in the Art Activism program of the Pittsburgh Public Schools' Summer Dreamers Academy. The initiative offers free academic and artistic instruction for students from K-8, seeking to close the summer learning gap for children from economically disadvantaged families.

The Art Activism curriculum is run by a branch of MGR Youth Empowerment, a Chicago-based educational nonprofit. The summer program, which allows campers to pursue an art form of their choosing, seeks to help youths find their voice through the visual or performing arts.

"These kids are living the issues that we hear about in the news every day," said MGR Arts in Action director Meredith Hoppe. "This gives them an outlet."

The event will begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday with opening remarks from Mayor Bill Peduto and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane. Two alumni of Arts Activism who are now in college will host the morning's festivities, featuring performances from students as well as local artists.

DJ Joe Kennedy of Tracksploitation, hip-hop musician Kai Roberts and others will be in attendance.

The work of students who chose the visual arts track will be shown in a hallway outside the auditorium. "We want to fill it as full as we can," Ms. Hoppe said.

Among the paintings, fabric art, photography and sculptures displayed will be a papier-mache tree, measuring almost 4 feet tall, upon which attendees can inscribe their wishes. Hearts, leaves and other shapes will hang from the tree's branches, each piece allowing students and audience members alike to leave their own mark on the artwork.

Jasmine Murrell, 12, said Art Activism has helped her grapple with the crime in her Beechview neighborhood.

"Usually, cops will be there," she said. "I'll just be walking with my mom and see it, you know, the violence."

As part of Art Activism's programming, Jasmine wrote a rap about "peace and change in our communities," which she will present at the rally. She is also the captain of a youth dance team that will be performing.

A fellow dancer, 13-year-old Kiara Gill of Mount Oliver, said the summer academy helped her work through the bullying she suffered in the fourth and fifth grades. "It gave me some closure on how to take these kinds of situations," she said. "I knew that it wasn't all my fault."

For Jasmine, an accepting attitude is also fundamental to dance. "Nobody puts anybody down," she said. "We all bring each other up."

Yanan Wang: ywang@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1964 or on Twitter @yananw

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