Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Velt: Prelude

I can’t withstand it anymore. The Spyhouse Coffee Shop has to go. Some of my best work was written there- entire albums, play scripts, most my literary livelihood can be credited to the damn place, it was a sanctuary for concentrating. However, the shitty internet connection and effortless condescension from the baristas have gone beyond the point of return. This morning has to be christened with a new venue, a fresh start, a place where no one knows my face or name… the Loring Park Dunn Bros.

I pack my belongings and backpack and make way to the new location to write. Enter Dunn Bros, any Dunn Bros, coffee bean scented with newspapers rustling about. It's perfect- this table’s comfortable, hell, I could start a new home here- Baristas are nice, the place is huge, beautiful view of Loring Park without getting held up for your wallet- I’m in. “Hello, you are Toussaint Morrison”, a soft voice in an East African accent quietly interjected to my left. “Are you still writing plays”, the voice asks. I turn, it’s a familiar face. I’ve seen this man- dammit he’s familiar as all hell- I feel like I’ve known him my entire adult life, but never exchanged a word or name with him. “Hi, I’m Toussaint” totally not answering his question.

“You know, you should come to Roosevelt. They need some kind of theatre there. You could teach the students!” the familiar East African man excitedly clammered. This guy clearly doesn’t know me as well as I think I recognize him. “I mean, I don’t know how much they could pay you, but the school could really use someone like you around”, he went on.

We ran track together- recognized him from the old city track & field showdowns at Washburn H.S... as well as the social grid of the University of MN. I’d been in proximity for the past decade with this guy and still didn’t know his name. “Hassan. I work at Roosevelt”, he said.

Teach theatre to kids? What would I say to them? Hi, I'm Toussaint. Most times I open my mouth, people get pissed off, I get slapped, I get paid, or I win a poetry slam?

Hassan, it is. I’ll take you up on the offer after I finish working out the details on this song about Risperdal and emotional behavior disorder. This should be damn fun. And by fun I mean I have absolutely no clue of the opportunity you just extended. The little I do know of Roosevelt High School is that it’s the alma mater of several of my best friends, several infamous athletes, and an easy target if you had to point your finger in the direction the school you most likely did not want to wind up at. Sitting right next to perennial academic success school Minneapolis South H.S. and a not too distant Minneapolis Southwest H.S. (#1 in the state).
Distressed by what I just said? Don’t be. It was the first thing I was informed of when I stepped into my first meeting at Roosevelt. “Most kids wind up here that applied for Minneapolis South or Southwest, and are a bit discouraged that they didn’t get in”. F that. I want to give these kids a voice, a stage, a mic- something in which to brand their creative thumbprint on their city.

Somewhere along the line, the city had failed the building, abandoned it beneath the shadow of South, Southwest, and a deplorable public school system that ranks dead last in the U.S. for racial disparity in education.

Some while ago, somehow… the bar was settled near the floor for the standards of Roosevelt H.S. I was going to challenge that- change it, even. Most importantly, I wanted to know what the students had to say about it.

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