In December 2009, the Redford Center and the Duke Nicholas School of the Enviroment sponsored the Water in the Colorado River Basin Summit. Prominent musician and composer John Forté served as our artist at the table. His creative insights as well as his inspirational music helped to provoke a different kind of dialog.
"I don’t dance. Well, what I mean is that I don’t dance in public. Not any more. I get too self-conscious… embarrassed. I still dance in my heart, however. My spirit dances when I strum my guitar, or when I hear the laughter of children, or when I defiantly squint into the sun on a winter’s day. My spirit danced not too long ago when I took part in the Duke-Redford Water Summit. Seated at a table, surrounded by politicians, academics, scientists, and policy makers, I was 'the artist at the table.'
Important gatherings of scientific and political importance are validated by the presence of the artist.
I am no expert. I am an artist with an emotional connection to one issue: How can we improve the human condition?
The Duke-Redford Water Summit was enlightening and inspiring. I sang a song, Critical Time, about a body of water depleting at an alarming rate. No, even worse than “alarming.”
I listened to people who were tuned into the issues. I heard beautiful ideas about how we might preserve and fortify what remains. I breathed – there was hope after all.
I was no expert, but I used my voice. I posed questions. Questions were posed to me. I was the artist at the table with an emotional connection to one issue: How can I improve the human condition?
And before I left the summit, I sang a few more songs. I exited the stage, I smiled, and – dare I admit – I danced."--John Forté
John Forté is a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and producer from Brooklyn, New York, best known for his work with the multi-platinum group “The Fugees.” On November 24, 2008, Forté was granted a commutation by President George W. Bush after having served more than seven years of a fourteen-year federal prison sentence for a first-time non-violent drug offense.
July 2009, marking the nine-year anniversary of the date of his arrest, Forté released StyleFREE the EP, his first collection of new music in eight years. Forté’s undeniable talent as a lyricist and musician, far from diminishing during his incarceration, has grown and matured. His new songs, full of powerful social commentary combined with hope and inspiration, bear witness to the remaking of a man and his struggle to remain free – they are a testament to his spiritual journey and proof that the phoenix can, and will, rise from the ashes.
Prior to his incarceration, Forté produced and co-wrote tracks for The Fugees’ multi-platinum album The Score, and recorded two solo albums, PolySci (Columbia; 1998) and I, John (Transparent; 2002), which featured guest appearances by Herbie Hancock, Esthero and Tricky, and included a duet with Carly Simon (Forté’s friend, mentor and spiritual godmother who also later campaigned tirelessly for his release).
Forté is also writing (he signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster for his memoir and is a contributor to The Daily Beast), touring (he recently joined fellow artists Talib Kweli, Chrisette Michelle, and Pharoahe Monch on stage as special guests of The Roots at Highline Ballroom, showcased at SXSW, and returned from Ireland having performed with Ben Taylor and David Saw) and is actively working with at-risk youth at In Arms Reach, a Harlem-based initiative for children of incarcerated parents.
Following the June 9 Art of Activism program, Rosario paid an unexpected visit to San Francisco's Homeless Prenatal Program, founded by Art of Activism honoree Martha Ryan.
As an activist, Rosario Dawson fights for voter engagement and education, supports disaster relief and refugees, and uses her voice to battle poverty, violence, and AIDS. Rosario got her start in the 1995 movie Kids, and has since appeared in major films, including Rent, Men in Black II, 25th Hour, and Sin City. She has also appeared in smaller, independent films, including Woody Allen's Sidewalks of New York, and most recently starred alongside Will Smith in Seven Pounds.
"I always tell people: use your passion. Does your mom have Alzheimer's? Can your brother not afford school? Has an uncle come back from the war hurt? Are you afraid that you don't have health care? Is the neighborhood around you in shambles? Those are the things to invest yourself in politically because then you have something that's personally feeding you. If you have something that makes you filled up, that you're already caring about, that you're already talking about, then you'll actually see progress.... If we all listened to that little voice and we all worked to help that little thing that we know, then the whole world would be a different place, and we all would be doing our part."--Rosario Dawson
At age 19, James Berk is the youngest of seven worker-owners of West Oakland’s Mandela Food Co-op and heads up the Healthy Neighborhood Store Alliance, a program focused on getting fresh produce into corner stores in low-income neighborhoods. Growing up in West Oakland, where there are more liquor stores than grocery stores and access to fresh produce is hard to come by, James became ill. Recognition of the origins of his illness, however, made him determined to make healthy food available to his and other low-income communities throughout the nation. The program has already made a significant impact: Several convenience stores that previously carried only packaged goods now consistently carry produce. James’s vision for the program is that it become entirely youth-run, generating a livable income for each of its workers, while serving as an educational tool to others and a model for promoting greater access to fresh, healthy food for all Americans.
“Even in recent times of economic crisis, we as a nation still have a great number of resources at our disposal that go unused, so the fact that we have so many areas of our country in need of those resources is disappointing. But it doesn’t have to remain that way. Living in communities like these led me to believe that the only way to solve a problem was to wait patiently until someone noticed your pain, but I see now that we must be empowered to speak for ourselves, we must have a voice, and my greatest goal in the work that I do is to remind as many people as I can that our voice is already here.” —James Berk
Martha Ryan (middle) is a nurse practitioner with a long history of administering prenatal care to homeless women. Inspired by her work in the Peace Corps and on medical trips in Africa, she founded San Francisco’s Homeless Prenatal Program in 1989 while volunteering at the Hamilton Family Shelter. She had always expected to return to Africa to continue her work after getting her Master’s degree at UC Berkeley but she found that there was just as great a need in the Bay Area. In the program’s first year, it served 72 women who would otherwise have gone without care. Today, the organization serves over 3,000 families a year, provides many other support services, and employs a staff comprised of dozens of former clients. Martha Ryan’s goal is to end childhood poverty, and to lift homeless women and families out of welfare, mental illness, and life on the streets by investing in the community.
“The remarkable women I worked with in Africa served as the best learning examples of inner strength, courage, and persistence when all hope seems lost. These were women who lost everything—their children, family, and homes—and yet they were able to find the strength within themselves to move on and help those in their own community. In my eyes, they were true activists and have inspired my own activism when I saw and met a public health need through the founding of the Homeless Prenatal Program. Rather than ignoring the fact that homeless, pregnant women were not getting proper care, I drew upon my time in Africa and acted on it by seizing an opportunity, following my passion, and encouraging others from the community to develop their own leadership capacity. An activist brings in others to promote change together. Through this partnership, a mere 'good idea' begins to cement itself into reality.”—Martha Ryan
Avery returned from a Step by Step project trip to Ecuador in June 2010.
My name is Avery Hale, and I have lived in the Bay Area since I was born and attend Marin Academy High School as a sophomore. I am fifteen years old, and in 2006 when I was I was in the seventh grade, I founded my organization Step by Step to donate new and gently used shoes to impoverished villages around the world. In 2007 I traveled to Peru to the village of Chumpe y Poques, with over 100 pairs of shoes. Since then I have collected over 2,000 pairs of shoes and have donated to countries including Ecuador, Costa Rica, and South Africa. My hope is that in the coming years I will be able to expand my organization, to reach as many people as possible who are living in deprived areas throughout the world and provide each with a pair of durable, and practical shoes.
“Activism, by its very definition, is campaigning to bring about political or social change. What my personal goal is, is to change the lives of as many people as possible throughout the world, with simply a pair of shoes. The activism that I do is also meant to inspire the community, not only to “create change”, but to realize the privileges and advantages we have, that as a society we may take for granted.”--Avery Hale
Victor's proposal for REALM (Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement), to create two Berkeley-based charter schools, was approved by the Board of Education in June 2010, and will open Fall 2011. Read more...
Victor Diaz graduated from UCLA with a BA in Chicano Studies and earned his J.D. from New College of California Law School. Victor earned a M.Ed. from USF, and completed an administrative credential in the Urban Leadership Program at CSUS. Currently enrolled in the Language, Literacy, Society and Culture Doctoral Program at UC Berkeley, Mr. Diaz taught at the Real Alternatives Program in San Francisco and for the County Schools of San Francisco, serving expelled, adjudicated, and incarcerated students for eight years. He has served as a continuation school principal in Boston Public Schools. He has taught courses at USF, California State Northridge, and is presently teaching in the Principal Leadership Institute (PLI) at UC Berkeley. He is presently the principal of Berkeley Technology Academy, a continuation school.
“My fire for this work comes from the love the students and families share with me. I am their warrior. I feel commanded by them to break the cycle of failure. To go for broke. To shatter all limits, stereotypes, and expectations that seem deeply embedded in the day-to-day operations of public schools. My motivation is part vendetta. Too many before me suffered for demanding better books, safer buildings, or for trying to shatter the cloak of mediocrity placed upon children of color generation after generation. Yet I am also motivated by the genius, the raw brilliance of our children. This is precisely what schools strip from our children. And this is what my life's work is-to build schools that nurture innovation, honor creativity, while bettering humanity and annihilating cycles of failure.”--Victor Diaz