I lead a local chapter of a national group called Earth Champs. (It was originally called Earth Scouts, but don't even get me started on why the organization had to change their name!) Earth Champs is a program for kids ages 3-17 to work together to help change their community. The idea is based on the Earth Charter, which promotes Respect for Nature, Human Rights, Peace and Nonviolence, Economic Justice, and Participatory Democracy. These, in turn are the badges that our kids can earn, together, as they with their parents act to help our world become a better place.
My group has seven kids, ages 4-9, and we are currently working on our Respect for Nature badge. The theme of this badge, for us, has been animal Homes and Habitats. When we got to the Creation portion of our badge work (after a few prior Inspiration meetings), I had the kids walk along the south shore of Cayuga Lake picking up trash. A public park for people, but also, we all agreed, a habitat and home for many wild animals. We briefly talked about the need for animals to have a home that was free of garbage, and then I sent them all to the shoreline to find whatever discarded human stuff they could. How does this tie in to a Creative act? Well, the catch was that we would keep all this trash, and at the next meeting use it to make art.
One person's trash is another person's treasure.
At the next meeting, before the kids got down and dirty with their garbage, I read them a book. A book that is so colorful and hopeful, a book in which the Art seeps right off the page, a book that almost made me cry as I read aloud. It is called Magic Trash by J.H. Shapiro, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and it is the Story of Tyree Guyton and his Art.
Tyree Guyton grew up in the run down and falling apart community of Heidelberg Street, Detroit. Tyree was lucky to have a Grandpa who pushed him towards Art, and when he grew up, inspired to "paint the world" he came back to Heidelberg Street, and began to recreate his childhood home. With trash. Trash made into Art. Fallen down houses rebuilt and painted with Polka Dots. Garbage collected and created into sculpture. Art created life.
I am not sure the kids got the full message of the story. But every one of them sat and listened, spellbound and silent as I read each beautiful page. The only word uttered was when at one point tanks came to bulldoze Tyree's magic garbage Art, and one of my listeners quietly asked "Why?"
I don't know why. I don't have those answers. But what I do know, what I can tell my Earth Champs and help them understand is that we all deserve homes that are safe, and sparkling with love, and free from the darkness of the world. Whether you live on Cayuga Lake, NY or Heidelberg Street, Detroit, or anywhere in between. I can also tell them that I believe Art can heal us. In many, many ways. And that sometimes trash can be magical.