On occasion you meet someone who inspires you. These people often have something about them, an indefinable quality that you cannot name and cannot even describe. It is my good fortune to know a few of these people. I find myself captivated not only by their passion and ideas but by the things they do, because the things they do completely inspire me. And so it is with a teacher from my daughter’s school, and his passion for education – and for hip hop.Yesterday afternoon in the atrium at MacDonald Island Park a flash mob happened. This flash mob, as wonderful as it was, was truly just another aspect of something going on in our community that is pretty amazing. It is something that I have been following for some time, watching with fascination, and it began with the teacher I mention above and some of his friends. The teacher, who is named Suhail, happens to teach social sciences – but he also teaches hip hop, and this year he and some others began a little hip hop group called “Northern Elements Crew” – and I think they are very quietly changing lives and doing things that are way past remarkable.
The NEC meets every Thursday night at Ecole McTavish. It is directed at local youth, and the instructors, Suhail and his friends, teach the kids the art of hip hop. The kids, some of whom I suspect are not involved in sports or school or other activities, are drawn to the dancing, of course, but I believe they are also being drawn to the community that is being created, a local hip hop culture. They dance and they socialize and on occasion they “jam”, which is like a dance-off with their peers. I dropped in at one of these jams a few weeks ago and my jaw dropped, because what I saw astonished me. I saw involved, engaged, and active youth. I saw joy.You see, one of our greatest challenges is engaging youth. Reaching them, involving them, and bringing them into our community, or helping them to create one of their own, is so important and I am so passionate about it, but it is difficult. There are kids who are tough to reach, and tough to draw in. There are kids who don’t want to play sports, and who aren’t into school. There are kids who don’t want to join robotics clubs or yearbook groups. There are kids who all too often end up on the fringes, and those kids can be left behind. But on occasion someone comes up with an idea that reaches those kids and all the others kids, too, the ones who are already engaged. They find a way to engage all the kids through a common love – and in the case of the Northern Elements Crew they have done this through hip hop.
I will be honest. I know very little about hip hop, and the history, and the culture. But I am learning, because it is through hip hop dance that NEC is engaging local youth, and teaching them not just dance but the history and culture of the hip hop movement – and building a local hip hop community and culture, one that embraces all youth and gives them all a place to call home.I don’t know exactly how to put into words what this all means to me, and our community. This is a true grassroots movement, one started by a teacher and some of his friends, and their passion and commitment and dedication are changing the lives of local youth. They give the kids bus tickets if they need them to get to the dance sessions, and they feed them when they are there. They have reached out to local groups who work with youth at risk, and they have been very, very quietly creating something that has the potential to change the trajectory of so many young lives – even if those young adults have no idea it is happening. They are taking our children and giving them something to be passionate about, something to care about, and something to celebrate. They are making a difference with every single dance step, every jam, every dance lesson, and every flash mob. And the beauty of it all? The pure joy on the faces of these kids. Yesterday as I watched I suspect there was pure joy on my face, too, and I was also, admittedly, a bit close to tears because there are times when you realize you are witnessing something so special that it deserves far more recognition than you can ever give it. The Northern Elements Crew – the adults involved and the students – deserve more than just this blog post. They deserve every person in this community standing up and recognizing what an incredible thing they are doing. They deserve to be known for sharing their passion for dance, and their passion for creating community. They deserve to be famous, not as dancers, although they are so talented, but as members of this community who are contributing and creating something phenomenal. I don’t know much about hip hop – but I am a huge, huge fan of Northern Elements Crew, and I think every single person in this community should be, too. This community of dancers, adults and kids, are what we are all about in Fort McMurray. We are about passion and innovation and creativity and growth. We are about community and this little group of passionate and innovative and creative hip hop dancers? They are a community within our greater community, and they are, in the end, one of the finest examples I have ever seen of who we are, and what we have the potential to become. I could go on and on and on...but instead I will leave you with some videos, from yesterday’s flash mob and some other Northern Elements Crew moments. Frankly they say with dance what I struggle to express with words.
Watch the joy. Watch the engagement. And I would suggest you keep an eye on NEC, because I think this is just the beginning of something that is going to be pretty damn spectacular. And I am so very honoured to have the opportunity to witness it.