Lyn E. Cook, videographer, designer and community activist & King Kihei, poet, musician and community activist on their 2014 project Parent-Teacher Conference: Building hope in Kansas City’s public school system
Link to video
The project grew far beyond its initial idea
Lyn: Parent-Teacher Conference is a project that was funded by Rocket Grants to explore public education here in Kansas City, Missouri. We actually took the community as art. And we took their perceptions, their experiences, their voice and we’re creating a juxtaposition of the issues surrounding public education in Kansas City, Missouri.
Without Rocket Grants the project would not have evolved into what it became. Initially it was going to be a music video about education, you know, and it actually became so much more. It was… inspired by a song called Parent-Teacher Conference that was done by Kihei and the Recipe… Poetry Guild, and from there it has just grown into a movement.
Kihei: …We do creative writing classes, me and the Recipe Poetry Guild, here and there with kids – and we got to the point, you know, where we were generating ideas, and we just asked the kids… ‘what’s going on with you guys, what do you guys want to talk about?’ And… the main topic was the school district… they were closing a lot of schools, closed 29 of them at the time… a lot of the lines were being redistricted between the schools, … a lot going on.
Inspiring hope and generating solutions
Kihei: I feel it’s done a large part for our community because we’re dealing with a very sensitive issue with our school district, our future, the education of our children… it was a state of kind of hopelessness and despair there. What is great with this project for me is it’s inspired a spark within them, and kind of still kept their hope alive… to show that there’s still a fight going on.
Lyn: And I think it really gave a face to the issue. There was this cloudy ideal of ‘OK, education in Kansas City needs to be improved’… But what are the experiences that really can communicate and reveal some of the solutions that could occur?
Crossing barriers and building unity
Lyn: You don’t have to have a particular position, like you can be wherever you are and do something regarding the issue.
I mean we all had our own opinions related to what could be done differently in education, however the community… – the people, the students, the parents, the educators, the activists, the politicians – they are the one who actually gave us the structure and the meat to be able to share.
Kihei: It actually crossed a lot of barriers – it crossed the age barriers, professional barriers, race barriers, you know. It’s really good actually see this diversity within the community… coming together for a common goal – which is education. All of them realized how it affected them daily.
Lyn: Through the vehicle of a song we were able to capture various perceptions. And that became a springboard that invited the dialogue and opened up the space for dialogue to occur. So the art made the project and the concept of being an influencer accessible to everyone.
Giving young people a voice
Lyn: With the young people, just us capturing their perceptions allowed us to share their perception with other people, other players in education. And so instead of, say… a school district, or a parent or educator taking the approach of their making the choices for the young people, they were actually able to take their suggestions, their considerations, their values that matter to them, their needs, and maybe pivot and modify what they were offering them.
Kihei: And the thing I’ve noticed, you know, for myself – back in that age or in those shoes – I realized that if I had certain guidance as far as how to maneuver through systematic things… it would have actually allowed me to manifest it quicker or sooner, and actually to have a collective level doing it at the same time. I think is very monumental to do something like that. That’s what I’m thankful for… I guess Rocket Grants gave me the opportunity to have it and now I’m sharing it with someone else.
The importance of supporting creative community work
Kihei: Especially in certain environments, you know, where we come from, this usually kind of turns the perception of grants and the grant process, and things of that sort – there’s usually kind of a stigma on it. But… all I’ve been seeing is Rocket Grants, Rocket Grants, Rocket Grants, and more of the community is getting more involved in that process. It’s amazing to me to see the people change their mindset [to] believing or doing something they believed they couldn’t do before.
And I think Rocket Grants is a huge piece of that, especially in our community, for the people I have seen… they work hard, they work tirelessly, but to see them actually have that support that means a lot…. So to me I think it’s actually changing the whole dynamic of our core, our city’s core…
Lyn: We have a remarkable grassroots community here in Kansas City, and I think the spirit of the project actually really attracted other like-minded people who are doing something or who wanted to do something, or who were just supportive of us doing something – and that’s been really remarkable.
Kihei: I think it’s created the inspiration that something can actually be done about it. I think that’s the greatest thing I’ve witnessed.