Kathy D. Harrison named a 2015-2016 Jubilation Foundation Two Year Fellow Recipient
"I'm only the facilitator," says Kathy, "not the Almighty. Students are part of the process with me." With an exceptional feel for working with kids, Kathy has a phenomenal ability to bring them out of themselves, which increases their self-esteem and self-image. "Creativity is subjective," she says, "it's a sensitive subject. Anything can happen, it's not preconceived, but based on what the students give. I take an artistic approach to teaching."
Kathy is a multidisciplinary performing artist, and founder of Diversity Youth Theater, which offers collective theater-making for young people. She has a knack for creating projects that merge storytelling, songwriting, acting, and rhythmic movement. She hosts in-school residencies and community workshops, and her Untold Stories Series has been touring since 2012.
"I discovered my love for teaching the creative arts at Camp Crystalaire/Camp Lookout," says Kathy, "as a college undergraduate. I wanted to continue my own journey in the arts, while also teaching young people to connect with their own creativity through music, theater, movement, and writing."
Since then, she has partnered with nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies. Recently, she started an arts and entrepreneurship co-op, which is operated by college students and recent grads, who learn to create profitable performing arts projects and workshops.
"I believe that the journey of creating is just as significant as the final work. Whether I am teaching a group of college students via ensemble-based theater, facilitating a storytelling workshop with incarcerated parents, or leading a music and dance class with pre-K and elementary students, I am an engaged, guiding participant throughout the process. I am not the ‘all knowing' guru. Instead, the environment is a community in which everyone's creative energy is relevant. We have fun. We laugh together. We cry together. We get frustrated together. We dialogue. We stay committed. It's about interconnectivity and interdependence."
How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
"I use rhythmical, playful games and exercises, and create a fun, playful energy, so students feel comfortable being silly. There's no judgment, and every student is relevant.
"I make every effort to set up a tone that allows trust to be present, rendering an openness and freedom, so that people drop their walls and reservations. This allows people to connect with their creative self, and in turn connect with others. The way I do this is by being a part of it and going through the experience with them. They feed off the energy, and the examples I provide. This allows the student/teacher dynamic to fade, and the sense of community and interconnectedness to take over."
Review of The Movement Musical in CONTINUUM Journal
The idea of a black person as president was only a dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. was serving time in the Birmingham Jail, hitting a low point in the movement. Led by Reverend James Bevel, The Children’s March in Birmingham in 1963 rejuvenated the movement to a transformative place in history. Kathy D. Harrison, Founder/Artistic Director of the Diversity Youth Theatre ( DYT), wrote and directed a powerful a cappella musical that encapsulated the children’s struggle for equal rights in Birmingham, Alabama. The DYT’s performance at the National Black Theatre Festival between August 7-8, 2015 reminded us of this powerful story of triumph.
As the lights rise, the performers are in the center of the stage singing, “ This is our Story”. While singing, each actor selectively transforms into Angela Davis, Ruby Bridges, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and Rosa Parks and other important African-Americans in history. With crisp transitions into characters, I was spellbound. The harmonious lyrics, “It is important that we, learn, share, and hear our stories/African-American Stories /So we going to tell it”swelled throughout the theatre. With Harrison leading the song all the way down to the youngest performer, Nigel Williams (primary school), the performers captivated the audience as they laid the foundation and drew us into their world.
As the play moved along, The songs “Birmingham 1963” and “Segregated” continued to illuminate for us the bleak reality of the black people of Birmingham. Listening to the radio was a great outlet for the youth. They danced the popular dances and played the popular music. Through this pastime, the famous radio disc jockey of Birmingham, Shelley “ The Playboy” Stewart used his influence to connect to them. “ He talked that jive talk”. He used coded messages to send messages about future meetings of the March. As the play progressed to the end of Act One, excerpts of “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” were eloquently performed. Even though I was aware of this history, the performance made me wait in anticipation of what would happen next.
Winston-Salem Journal Article featuring The Movement Musical by Kathy D. Harrison
“The Movement,” an a cappella musical written and directed by Kathy D. Harrison, was inspired by the Children’s Crusade of 1963. It’s an uplifting story about courageous school children taking risks to change their world. That story stirred up something in Sophia, a first-grader, who stopped by and talked with me. Her spirit moved me.