This Independence Day, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Voices of a People’s History of the United States premiere a video work celebrating the social justice heroes of the past and present, featuring spoken word performances by 17 graduating seniors of the Maxine Greene School for Imaginative Inquiry in NYC. The video premieres on Lincoln Center’s website and Facebook page on Saturday, July 4th at 1pm.
Throughout the school year, students from teacher Jeffrey Ellis-Lee’s AP U.S. History class have researched and prepared readings of self-selected texts included in Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States. These powerful works span Black luminaries like Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass, to contemporary artists and activists like Vito Russo, Bob Dylan, and undocumented youth advocate Gustavo Madrigal-Piña.
“When I was growing up we had to recite famous speeches by presidents or the works of European poets. In the Voices classroom, we take this art of recitation in a radical new direction, through the careful study of great speeches, letters, songs and other texts by poor people, workers, Indigenous people, Black people, queer people, and many others,” said Brian Jones, Voices Teaching Artist and Board Member. “Instead of speaking from a position of power, they are speaking to challenge power. Working to put these words in their mouths, students have a new way to access U.S. history and gain new intellectual equipment for life.”
This Lincoln Center commission, part of a five-year long partnership with Voices, commemorates Zinn and Arnove’s powerful book, bringing to life the extraordinary history of inspiring people: those who built the movements for social justice, ending slavery and Jim Crow, protesting war and the genocide of Native Americans, advancing women’s rights and gay liberation, and struggling to right the wrongs of the day.
“In our course of AP History, the Voices experience allows for each student to have an individual relationship with the history of the ‘people’ of the United States. At some point, they realize the power of their own voice,” said Jeffrey Ellis-Lee, AP U.S. History Teacherat Maxine Greene School for Imaginative Inquiry. “It really becomes a class in self-empowerment and brings me to tears every time that moment arrives for each student. It is why I teach.”
Students receive year-round mentorship and guidance from Lincoln Center creative staff and Voices Teaching Artists and celebrity guest artists, including actress Laura Gómez, singer-songwriter J. Hoard, actor Jesse Eisenberg, singer Martha Redboneand more, in preparation for their Lincoln Center debut. While the graduating AP U.S. History class can no longer make an in-person debut due to COVID-19 – originally planned for May at the David Rubenstein Atrium – this digital offering connects their work to an even wider audience and allows the class to complete their year-long project with more creative freedom.
“My experience with the project was just extremely thought-provoking. I would say I wanted my piece to be as immersive as possible, and I believe doing a video showing my face would make it seem like the viewer is just hearing what I have to say instead of LISTENING and feeling what I have to say,” said Joseph P., Graduating Senior performing Tim O’Brien’s “The Man I Killed.” “I added music in the background of my piece so the listener can feel like they just got stuck in the middle of Vietnam and experience the piece with the characters.”
“Lincoln Center is honored to help facilitate this collaborative partnership between the arts and education in telling America’s full history and to inspire the next generation of leaders to fight for social change,” said Jordana Leigh, Director, David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. “I am in awe of each and every student who participated in this year’s production. In spite of the many obstacles and unique challenges they faced due to COVID-19, including mandatory isolation and virtual learning, they created a powerful and relevant telling of America’s History. I am beyond grateful for their dedication and perseverance.”
For more information on the Saturday, July 4 video premiere, visit LincolnCenter.org.