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Straight No Chaser: Expose Your Children to More Than Their Block

Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag


gloria_winston_al-sarag2There is much to be said for exposing your children to more than the block on which they live. The seeds planted in them at an early age will sprout up later in life, if not before. I’ve always said I had been raised in Camelot, fortunately, at a time when neighbors knew neighbors, and all the kids in the neighborhood, as well as the kids’ parents by name, and vice versa. When I have taken the time to reflect, I’ve often thought about the benefits we’d had as kids in my ‘hood, like being exposed to everything from arts and crafts, to roller and ice skating, and being introduced to “the classics.”

By “the classics,” I am referring to books, and dance, as well as music.

As many of you may know, I studied the violin beginning in elementary school, and had been a first string violin in the Madison High Senior Orchestra in the seventh grade. I continue to love my instrument, but am even more thankful for my parents making sure I had been exposed to the arts in every way. If we said we wanted to try something, we were encouraged to do so. Ballet, tap, and modern dance had also been encouraged in my household. My mom had what one might call, a “well-rounded agenda,” and refused to limit her children.

While sitting at the Eastman Theater in support of my cello-playing granddaughter, Brianna, who also maintains grades that would be considered scholarly, I realized with certainty that the arts, and exposure to them, may have unseen benefits for the kids who have been engaged with them. As I looked closely at the students who played a part in the seven ensembles performing during the Rochester City School District’s All-City Concert, I was certain that 100 percent of them would succeed in life. I had been certain that their exposure, and their participation, would contribute to the self-confidence they would need throughout their lives. I was certain the amount of time they spent practicing their instruments, or using their voices, would be contributing factors to the discipline they would need in order to make better choices for themselves in life.

Naturally, I had also been more than proud of my granddaughter, but I was even more proud of her parents, for allowing her to pursue her interests.

To date, she has had exposure to the piano, and lessons on the clarinet, flute, and violin.

The cello, in her junior year of high school, has become her instrument of choice. However, it is not the instrument, or how much she has accomplished with it, that I would like to emphasize. Thinking outside the box, and not limiting herself to rap and hip-hop, in a society where the choices of music are bountiful, is the point I would like to make. And, as I looked at that stage, I was more than assured that not one of the students I listened to would ever be found fighting in a bus station, or on the streets disrupting any public gathering. I was sure of it, because the students I had been looking at, had positive influences in their lives. Something, or someone, must have understood how important it was to get their children away from the TV, and social media, long enough to make sure they explored interests which may one day help them.

I would also like to give ORCHIDS to all the parents, grandparents, family and friends who had been present at the theater, in support of the students who participated in the Rochester City School District All-City Concert. The students played like true professionals, including my cello-playing granddaughter.

And, their teachers deserved applause, as well. My 17-month-old great-grandson, who was in attendance, may also have a future in the arts. He applauded loudly, and enthusiastically, to every song, and directed like he was the conductor. We had to walk him out when he tried to sing soprano with the choir.

As further testimony to what exposure to the arts, or any discipline which requires practice and study, can do for kids, I would like to share an experience I had at a recent luncheon hosted by the Links Inc. I ran into Carol Arteberry-Wheeler, and Jerdine Johnson, both of whom had been members of Spectrum Models, the modeling group I founded back in the day. We chatted briefly about the possibility of a Spectrum reunion, in the near future, but, more importantly, I was loving the fact that both of them recalled their experience like it was yesterday,  and said the exposure they’d received may have possibly contributed to whom they have both become today.

Please, don’t get it twisted, I am in no way trying to take credit for their success, but I am simply trying to point out they both mentioned the travel, and events, we participated in as having been positive contributions in their lives. The same can probably be said about attending churches, and sitting down and breaking bread with folks from other cultures. Much of the ignorance which has prevailed today, in far too many people, could be likely be eradicated by simple gestures and exposures such as these.

Exposure to the arts has been, in my experience, a positive contribution to the development of young people. And, as I sat in the Eastman Theater Kodak Hall, listening to the young, but professional, instrumentation and vocals, I asked myself how many children would walk into the hall, and be able to recognize the busts inset into the walls, which were a part of the decor.  Personally, I recognized Beethoven to my left, and, I’m not sure whether it was Schubert, or Bach, to my right. But, I certainly knew they were not Little Wayne, or Jay Z. That little bit of knowledge may have come from the fact that I had been exposed, as all children should be, to more than what had only been available on my block.