Do you, as a parent, think it’s important to talk with your children about complex issues like racism, identity and social change? Have you found it’s uncomfortable? Or that you don’t know how to start the conversation?
Performing and recording artists Kaitlyn McGaw, a white Harvard graduate, met Tommy Shepherd, a black actor/writer/musician, in the San Francisco theater community ten years ago. The duo formed the Alphabet Rockers with goal of using their music and performances to open conversations with kids on important but difficult topics.
“We’re able to write songs that translate really complex topics, that we as adults may struggle with, into sing-a-long raps and dances,” says McGaw. “We make it something kids learn the words to and want to sing. We’re writing about power and identity and racism and how to stand up for one another.
The message for kids is to be proud of who you are and share your voice.” Shepard adds, “We have a knack for making people comfortable talking about uncomfortable stuff because we do it so openly and without ego.”
The pair regularly travels with a choreographer, writers, dancers, visual artists or a DJ to help them perform their original, interactive hip-hop music with dancing, chanting and talking. From March 5–9, they will joined by DJ Wonway Posibul for their performances in Northeast Denver schools. “He [Posibul] is Latino, Tommy’s African American and I’m white, so we each have a different place in the movement of what we need to share,” says McGaw. Shepherd says they convey the message, “I know I don’t look like you but I still have your back.”
The group uses music as a learning tool. “Clinically, music is a healer,” says Shepherd. “For us, hip-hop music is a culture that’s full of music and dance and storytelling. So that’s the reason why we modeled [our programs] in that way. It’s less about music to us than a way of life.”
Northeast Denver schools made it onto the group’s travel schedule when Stapleton resident Sara Blanchard re-connected with her college friend, Kaitlyn McGaw and took on the task of scheduling the duo in local schools. Knowing parents need “to have someone help us find the words to have these conversations with our kids,” Blanchard contacted the local group Brave Coalition about organizing a session for adults with the Alphabet Rockers.
Lauren Kolfenbach, co-founder and president of Brave Coalition, agreed. The organization, which describes itself as non-political, was originally formed to create a better relationship between the community and elected officials with the goal of increased safety for kids. “It’s really our responsibility as adults to develop a culture that’s more inclusive and safe for our children,” says Kolfenbach. “All of our events have created these spaces for people to come together and have what we’ve termed ‘brave conversations,’ exploring difficult topics and ways to explore our own biases.They [the Alphabet Rockers] are addressing topics that parents realize our kids are aware of, but are difficult things to talk to our kids about. It’s helpful to learn how to have those discussions in an age-appropriate way.”
The blend of music, dance and discussion will be part of the adult program. The Alphabet Rockers say they are looking forward to creating community and collaboration. “Sometimes we think we’re open minded and we actually are more resistant,” says McGaw. “We have space for that, for people to say, ‘This is hard for me and I don’t even want to talk about it.’ It’s a safe space.” Shepard adds, “We’re not here to fight each other. We’re here to see what we can share. It can be uncomfortable to be honest. You’ll walk out of there changed in a way. What you choose to do after that is really up to you.”
The event is free, courtesy of sponsorship by Weichert Realtors, meeting space donated by Stanley Marketplace and organization handled by Brave Coalition. For more information about the Brave Coalition visit BraveCoalition.com, brave firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-909-9654.
March 10, 9-10:30am – Free Workshop
TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT DIVERSITY WITH THE ALPHABET ROCKERS
Parents, grandparents and caregivers are invited to the event at the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace.
Registration is required at eventbrite.com. (Search for Brave Coalition and Alphabet Rockers)