Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Midwest Trip, Columbus, Ohio (Day 2)
If you stood across the street from the red brick building at
1150 East Main Street in Columbus on Tuesday night, at about 6
o'clock, you'd have seen a stream of people walking into the building
through the front glass-doors -- most of them teenagers, all but
a few African American. The boys wore baggy blue jeans and loose
T-shirts, the girls in sundresses over jeans, or tight tops with
from the unimpressive façade of the building, as well as
the crowd, who looked like any other group of teens you'd find
anywhere in America, you'd never have guessed that some of these
young people were about to put on a dramatic display of dance
and poetry fueled by raw emotion.
But that's exactly what happened inside the Central Community
House, an 80-year-old institution located in the mostly poor southeast
section of Columbus. It is a private, non-profit "settlement
house" designed to strengthen family, neighborhood and community
life. The young people we saw there Tuesday night blew us away
with their break-dancing, drumming and poetry and rap performances.
First, the drums: Everyone with free hands was handed a hand
drum and mallet, and the beat boomed on for 15 or 20 minutes.
Next, Damien, one of the few Caucasians in the crowd, was singled
out for an affectionate sendoff; he was leaving Wednesday to join
welled in his eyes as a program director walked over for a hug,
but Damien quickly pulled himself together to perform a rap reminiscent
of Eminem. "Every time I speak, I'll make you FEEEEL it,"
was Damien's passionate refrain.
After loud applause, a dark-skinned beauty named Adora came forward
with her friend Chaz. They took turns reciting poetry they'd written.
She introduced herself quietly, then belted out her take on the
legacy of a black slave.
Breaking the bonds for all to see, here are the hands that
will set me free!
Say to the world, you can't keep me down!
I rose from your bondage, you will hear my sound!
Spreading the fingers of her hands, holding them in front of
her, she practically shouted:
On each page of history, I will tell my story
Of how blacks like me achieved freedom and glory!
The clapping was thunderous for this young woman headed to Harvard
this fall -- as it was also for her friend Chaz, who hopes to
return to community college in Columbus, when he recited his poem,
There was still more -- heart pumping break dancing: young men
and women twirled on their heads and thrust their bellies. The
Back in my motel room later that night, I read in the Columbus
Dispatch that Ohio law enforcement officials have seen an increase
in rape charges against boys as young as 11-14. I thought of the
impression so many adults have of a troubled and violent younger
generation. Indeed, some wrestle with serious problems. But if
the skeptics could only have been at the Central Community House
Tuesday night, they'd have seen something quite different -- enough
to give pause to even the most cynical about this younger generation.
-- Judy Woodruff