The Question: How do teenagers who just went through the most violent semester ever in the history of their high school, take care of themselves and each other this summer?
The Answer: For the dozens of Austin-East students and their adult supporters who converged upon UT Gardens on Wednesday, Love is the Answer.
Answers – plural – would be more accurate. Teenagers dealing with trauma, depression, grief and loss in the aftermath of losing five of their high school peers this year traded many heartfelt answers of recovery and healing in many creative forms, from rap and pop music to poetry and dance.
“When they’re given the opportunity to express themselves, they rap about the pain but if you listen, they’re offering solutions,” said Felecia Outsey, the tireless East Knoxville-based community organizer and founder of Divine Urban eXpressions, the arts and culture organization that produced the June 30 event.
Outsey’s team includes her sixteen-year-old son, who performs as DJ Dynamic Ray, and her seventeen-year-old daughter Kahlia. Both are Austin-East students. Along with her teenagers, Outsey and her twenty-two-year-old daughter LaNyah, who is a dancer, work with a network of volunteers to handle every logistical detail for the several events they produce every year.
Those details range from sound and lighting to social media, talent outreach, hustling prize donations for the talent competitions, and food.
“Love is the Answer Community Showcase – Teen Talent Night Rap Edition” was the culmination of a series of community-based youth marches, rallies, and performances to respond to the record surge in gun violence this year, particularly in East Knoxville. With an alternative message of love through the performance art of local youth, Outsey branded the series of events M.O.V.E. in L.O.V.E. (Motivation to Overcome Violence through Expression in Learning, Observing, Visualizing, and Expressing).
Rising freshman Midapoo, one of the showcase’s rap competition prizewinners, says she has been rapping in various genres since she was six years old. “I’m an artist of hip hop rap, r & b rap, mellow songs, gospel rap, you name it,” she said.
At the showcase, Midapoo performed “Gun Zone,” an original rap track that she says was inspired by the losses of her friend, Janaria Muhammad, an Austin-East freshman who was gunned down in front of her home Feb.16 and whose murder is still unsolved, and Anthony Thompson, who was in possession of a gun when he was shot dead by police in a school bathroom.
“My dance friend Janaria Muhammad had (recently) passed and when I was going to cheer camp at Austin-East I walked past the bathroom where Anthony Thompson had got killed. So it inspired me to write the song,” said the 14-year-old who describes herself as a rapper, dancer, and cheerleader.
Midapoo was one of about two dozen teenagers who went through the most harrowing semester of their lives to come together last week to find L.O.V.E. in each other’s music and poetry and dance.
Clearly, Felecia Outsey has built a M.O.V.E.ment.
Rick Held can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on July 7, 2021
“This is for the gun zone – calling down, calling down. All my prayers in the gun zone – here to shout, here to shout….Stop the violence stop hurting people…”
-From “Gun Zone” by Midapoo