Meet "the Planet Rotators, the Star Exploders"
In November 2016 forty young authors and creative leaders as well as adult artists, parents, and allies began meeting at the Carnegie and Bull Street libraries and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum as part of Deep Center's advanced program, Block by Block.
For nine months, they researched, documented, and remixed the past and present stories of Savannah's East Side neighborhood. They unearthed how their personal stories are linked to the East Side and how the stories of that neighborhood connect to society at large. In the process they:
- uncovered lost family narratives,
- conducted research for community development initiatives through a partnership with the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority,
- investigated the Chatham County juvenile justice system,
- designed a mural for a food truck,
- traced their families' journey—by choice or in bondage—to Savannah through their favorite family recipes, and
- collaborated with some of Savannah's most compelling creative writers, artists, and community leaders working for change—writers like Marquice Williams, Trelani Michelle, Desina Van, Erin DeYoung, Keith Miller, and artists like Cara Griffin, José Ray, Panhandle Slim, and Jerome Meadows.
Through all of this the young authors wrote and wrote and wrote. And in the process they came to understand that their voices and stories must be heard "loud
like the moving of mountains, rotation of planets, and explosion of stars."
The question that guided their research and writing was this: "How is the neighborhood I'm growing up in shaping who I'm becoming?" There were no easy answers to this question. And in the process they rendered many wonderful expressions—in the form of writing and visual art—of their revelations.
One of hundreds of pieces of writing include this poem, written collaboratively by Block by Block's young authors and teaching writers:
These Streets Make Me
A solid silhouette. History silenced. Blended, yet divided.
They all come together as one in their struggles, yet
the history of most continues to be muffled.
Beautiful lies are valued more than the hidden truth.
Exciting us to be. Stronger. Stronger. To be.
Stronger. Stronger. Stronger.
Wishes of the park being reconstructed and tidied up.
But what is clean? The absence of dirt or rethinking
what it means to be clean or dirty?
A potpourri of cultures, a plethora of experience,
eternal memories. Awaiting eyes to honor it, hands to
restore it, and tongues to proclaim—its people, then and now.
Where every Black child dreams they can be, while in a
neighborhood where they’re unwanted. Moving up to the East Side
left them down on their luck, where dreams are killed for a buck.
Waters. Be on Gwinett. Gwinett be on Waters. Trickle. Trickle.
Be Wet. Anointed. Blessed Waters. Blessed with Waters, fall on me.
Holy water. Drip. Drop.
You don’t catch flies with vinegar, but coated in honey hides
the smell. And you don’t catch young men with smiling cops,
saying “Everything’s okay, let’s just take a ride.”
Fill the void and invest in the East Side’s girls and boys.
So the 16 year-old girls can pay for wishes and the too-hard
fathers can get a break off the block.
As we wait. Eagerly. Under. Over. There.
An older lady tells us her story,
the history of an entire community.
I walk. I walk like no other. My mother and brother
dreamed to walk. Next to each other, hand-in-hand,
till life passes like my dream.
A place where your story will be heard. Loud
like the moving of mountains, rotation of planets,
and explosion of stars.
Weeds grow through the cracks in the concrete.
As the world pushes us out and forms the essence
of a sinned soul.
What if God was never real? And good things happened
to bad people, because there was no plan.
No spirit to feel.
A place where “Yo ass better be home before the streetlights
come on!”, just to make sure you’re okay. A place where when
the lights go out, not even demons come out to play.
East Side of Savannah in many ways is still
learning. Just as I am still learning
These streets make me. As I walk further down, I can see it shaping
me into its reflection. Savannah’s streets coated in pavement of history
and culture that live within me.
You never know how far you can go when there are steps on the moon.
But how do you walk on a broken sidewalk?
With no damn room to get in your groove.
On July 1 you can hear and see more revelations of the "Planet Rotators" at Deep Center's East Side Block Party. The event will feature the youth performing their original writing as well as public art produced in collaboration with adult artists Jerome Meadows, Panhandle Slim, Cara Griffin, and José Ray. And there will be music, food, community, and an invitation to share your own story and perspective on some of the critical issues facing Savannah.
The Block Party will also feature findings of a youth-centered community research process, conducted in collaboration with the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, focusing on the East Side.
Deep Center's East Side Block Party
Saturday, July 1
2-4pm: Youth Reading and Performance (doors open 1:30pm)
4-7pm: Block Party
East Broad K-8 School
400 East Broad Street
Savannah, GA 31401
A note about content: Deep authors are fearless and can write challenging content: Parental guidance is suggested.
Supporters and Partners
Block by Block is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Mid-American Arts Alliance, the Ford Foundation, City of Savannah Department of Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town, the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, the Surdna Foundation, and the United Way of the Coastal Empire.
Partners include the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, the National Writing Project, and the University of Georgia Department of Education.