East High cultural series hopes to encourage more involvement by neighborhood
Jazz music wafting through a coffee shop on a Friday evening is not uncommon, nor impressive unless you were at Cargo Coffee Friday night (March 21). A spoken word performance usually garners an echoey smattering of applause, and maybe a spirited “Woo!” from a patron, but not this night.
It could have been their ages, but more likely it was the polished, inspired, and passionate performances of Madison East High Students that brought enthusiastic applause from supporters and customers during a fundraiser to help make healthy snacks available to students at East.
Hungry students is not just an East high problem but is leading some to raise a larger question: Are Near East Side neighborhoods too detached from East High students? Friday’s event at Cargo Coffee shows there is much young talent to appreciate and support.
Karyn Chacon, an East High Teacher and Marquette Neighborhood Association Board member organized this first, in a series of events, to raise money for hungry students and also connect the neighborhood with East High Students.
“The neighborhood, I feel like it lacks the diversity that East High represents. We just had fine arts week…[there are] so many levels of talent and involvement and I really want to bring the awareness of the diversity of East Side Madison,” Chacon said.
“East is one of the most diverse high schools with the highest free and reduced [price meals] population and minority [population], I think we’re close to over 50 percent…I just really want that reflected in the community in a positive way.”
Hunger is known to impact learning and Chacon, who teaches in multiple areas, says that her colleagues that serve the needy populations of the school have improvised ways to provide food in the classroom. Some have, in the past, acquired day-old donated bread and have peanut butter available to help students who haven’t had a chance to eat before arriving at school.
Chacon herself will assemble extras in her house or will pick up items in bulk from Costco like granola bars. In addition to the largesse of teachers East has “The Free Fruit Bowl” where all students can take one piece of fruit each day.
“What I am looking to do is make sure that staff who serve the neediest populations have access to healthy snacks,” Chacon said. “It means so much that some of my students can see, you know I bring extra apples or somethin’ and have them on my desk and they’ll be like ‘Ms. Chacon can I have this?’ and I know that if they’re asking for an apple they are probably hungry.”
According to Karyn Chacon, many of the students that are either eligible for free and reduced lunch or are already in the program may not at times take advantage of it since there might be a social stigma attached to it. Others do have money for food but often use it for junk foods and may not “see the value of a healthy snack”.
Purgolders and Pomegranates
If there is a stigma among students, it was not at Cargo Coffee where a jazz quintet made up mostly of East High football players were happy to contribute to the cause. The Accidentals: Juan Muñoz (drums), Tonee Henslee (bass), Mandell Mathis (Alto sax), Ruben Arndt (piano and vocals), and Roman Barut and Fernando Ocelot (Trumpet), played various smooth arrangements and featured several impressive solos by Mathis (see video below). Ruben Ardnt says that all the boys in the band except Fernando Ocelot had met through the football team.
Twenty-some years ago when I attended East there was the Lath Freymiller Quintet which also garnered much buzz and invites to local jazz haunts and festivals. Beyond Lath and childhood schoolmate Jesse Haasch, I don’t remember the names of the others but they were a talented group. I was a theater tech at the time and for their school concerts I would work the colored light gels to match the moods of their pieces as they wandered through sets of mostly classic jazz.
The Accidentals have a similar vibe, barely stepping out of their cool jazz personas, represented by their deep purple shirts and black pants and showing a deep connection with the music. Tonee Henslee played the bass and the role of a bass player, sporting sunglasses and a fedora.
Juan Muñoz punctuated various pieces with expert drum fills while Mandell Mathis glided effortlessly through his solos, his fingers nimbly dancing on the valves and then giving a subtle look to his band mates when it was time to hit the refrain.
Some of the band stayed to apply atmosphere as Spoken Word Artist Kynala Philips stepped before the microphone. Phillips is a Junior, but as she performed the first two works it was soon apparent that she is a rising talent.
In fact, the next day she competed in the 2014 Wisconsin State Teen Slam Finals in Milwaukee. The competition is part of a national event, the Brave New Voices Poetry Slam that will be held in Philadelphia.
“So this is really cool for me because it give me an opportunity to tell you what my poetry means and then do it for you.” Phillips said to the audience before launching into the first poem she ever wrote, about a boy she liked.
There is poetry in performance and Phillips showed she had a firm grasp on her craft. Employing her entire body from arms and poses, to her eyes, expressions, cadence and force of her voice, she toured the audience through an original piece she was performing the next day: “There Are Strange Fruit That Black Men Stereotypically Don’t Eat”.
The poem is about a pomegranate; an elegant fruit she likened herself to in the mind of a suitor that surely didn’t appreciate it’s or her greatness. Phillips reported later that she was named to the state team that is headed to Philadelphia.
Expect more cultural events showcasing the talents of East High Students as Karyn Chacon hopes to hold a series of events at Cargo Coffee and other places to further connect East to the community.
Chacon says she eventually would like to launch a scholarship that benefits a student that is currently receiving free or reduced-priced meals. Chacon adds that some of the funds raised will be given to teachers who bring food to let them know from time to time their efforts are appreciated.
Related: East High Flight of Remembrance
Related: Kjell Erik Anderson (1961 – 2012)