Speaking Truth About Place And Belonging [VIDEO] - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Speaking Truth About Place And Belonging [VIDEO]

In a mural-lined alley, Rising Rythms performs. Three dancers are front and center with three drummers in the background. Rising Rhythms performs in the Mission District during “WE SO BAY." Photo credit: Jamie DeWolf
Rising Rhythms performs in the Mission District during “WE SO BAY,” a temporary public art project by Youth Speaks, a Kenneth Rainin Foundation supported Open Spaces grantee. Video credit: Jamie DeWolf

A mere nine days before the Bay Area’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place order took effect last spring an audience packed a BART train to experience WE SO BAY. This performative storytelling project, featured in the above video, spotlighted young poets, dancers and musicians from around the Bay Area telling stories about their neighborhoods and cities. The large-scale, moving installation took the audience from Richmond to San Francisco.

Dozens of young storytellers wrote and performed pieces that delved into their identity in relation to place and belonging. In workshops with mentors, they examined what it is to live, love and survive in the Bay Area. They reflected on the way their lives and experiences have been shaped by the rich Bay Area communities they belong to.

With the project now completed, we invited two of the storytellers—Geo Jones and Adriana Avalos—to reflect on their experiences.

Reflections By Geo Jones

Headshot of Geo Jones
Geo Jones, WE SO BAY participant. Photo courtesy of Geo Jones.

My experience in WE SO BAY has been the most unique and inspirational one yet. Being able to work together with young people in my city to craft poems and music that reflected the issues of our communities while bringing together the values of home and togetherness was thrilling. I remember practicing for my poem and feeling so scared and overwhelmed, but when I got on the stage and performed my piece I felt alive, heard and empowered. I knew from the pieces I performed I made an impact and within that impact, I built many relationships to inspire people across the Bay Area. An experience so unique and intimate like taking a BART ride to San Francisco was truly phenomenal. I felt closer to my community and the places that I call home. The WE SO BAY experience made me more comfortable in collaborating with other poets. It also allowed me to fully digest and become more vulnerable with myself, and because of this I am excited for the opportunities to come.

Reflections By Adriana Avalos

Adriana Avalos performing in front of the microphone.
Adriana Avalos performing in WE SO BAY. Photo credit: Jamie DeWolf

The whole experience with WE SO BAY was amazing from the very beginning to the very end. I felt at home when I was a part of WE SO BAY—like I belonged and was unstoppable. Not only did the experience allow me to meet new people, it allowed me to be myself and form a family of artists. Being a part of this project showed me that if we all work together we can genuinely accomplish the things that are necessary for change. The whole day was more than just performances and people, it was laughter, bonding, and solidarity. That was the first time I really experienced true relationships with my community. The Bay Area is my home and this day really brought that to life. This opportunity was the best experience of my life and I will NEVER forget it.

Spotlighting The Next Generation

WE SO BAY cultivated, centered and celebrated the voices and ideas of the next generation. This project was a production of Youth Speaks in collaboration with numerous mentors and community groups, including the African American Arts and Cultural Complex, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Bayview Opera House, Destiny Arts Center, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, John O’Connell High School, Project Level, RYSE Center, and the San Francisco Unified School District.

Youth Speaks was awarded a grant through the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s Open Spaces Program, which supports temporary public art that addresses pressing community issues while connecting people through creativity and expression. We invite you to watch the above video and hear honest, creative stories that capture the beauty and struggle of being from the Bay Area.