Last Thursday night my family and I went to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre for my mum’s birthday. Although the evening was meant to celebrate my mum, the performance was so inspirational and appealed to me not just as a dancer, but in light of the work I do with dance4empowerment as well.
Alvin Ailey was an African American choreographer and an activist who founded the dance company in New York that bears his name. The goal of his dance company was to celebrate African-American culture through dance and movement. Drawing upon his childhood memories of oppression and segregation, Ailey popularized modern dance in the 20th century and, further, revolutionized African-American participation in dance performances. Having recently visited the South on a Civil Rights journey, I was touched by Alvin Ailey’s story and impressed with his passion for dance. The legacy of Ailey’s commitment to dance and to his heritage was apparent in Thursday night’s performance.
Ailey’s strong commitment to his “unique” community spoke to me the most as my non-profit, dance4empowerment, works towards the inclusion of people with disabilities. My goal is to bring dance to as many people with disabilities in our communities as a means of self-expression and growth. And, like Ailey, I hope that my program will continue to expand, improve, and influence over time.
Last week I spent several days on a Civil Rights Journey organized through my high school, Gann Academy. Each year students are provided an opportunity to spend Exploration week learning outside the classroom in local and other U.S. programs. Last year, I was fortunate to spend Exploration Week learning from pioneer foundations for people with disabilities in Israel, a program I developed and received approval for from Gann. I expected my trip this year to be a completely different experience from my trip last year; however, I found myself thinking about very similar ideas.
As I traveled through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, I spent a lot of time thinking about segregation, integration, and my personal connection to the Civil Rights movement. It was frightening to think that slavery, racism, and the terrible violence and hatred that came with it once had such a strong presence in this country and that it was not that long ago. And, although there is still a divide between black and white, thankfully the gap is getting smaller. Life in the South is still quite different than in New England, however, major changes in thinking have been made in the last 50 years.
Throughout our trip we met influential leaders of the Civil Rights movement, like Freedom Rider Charles Person and Attorney Fred Gray; they were kind enough to share their experiences as African Americans in the deep South. We also met with a variety of other people who were either involved with or impacted by the Civil Rights movement; their experiences were all very different but shared the same life lessons. They told us that as teenagers in a rapidly changing world, we must do everything we can to change the injustices we see in the world and, further, to find our passions and fight for them. I feel very fortunate to have already found something I am passionate about – making our community more inclusive for people with disabilities. During my journey through the South, I thought about the separation and inequality in today’s world for people with disabilities and I know that we must do better.
Another opportunity provided to students at Gann is during Senior year is Maavar, a three month time period in which we are given “free” time to work on a project or hold an internship aligned with our specific interests. Therefore, starting this week, I will focus the majority of my time dedicated to enhancing the dance4empowerment program. With the recent Combined Jewish Philanthropies Connection and Engagement Grant* I received, I will continue to create more dance programs and push for more inclusion in our communities. In addition, I will be interning at the State House for Representative Kay Khan learning invaluable lessons in the world of politics.
Please stay connected as I share my progress!
Dance, move, and empower,
*One-time Grants of up to $5,000 for innovative initiatives (programs, events and experiences) that support a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community and access to Jewish life. Initiatives are targeted to under-connected or under-engaged populations such as families with young children, interfaith couples and families, and any other cohorts who have not found a way to connect or engage within our community
Last Thursday I was sitting in my biology class working on a lab report when a TV crew came in and started setting up. Not sure what was going on, I continued to work with my lab partner; the last thing I expected was that our surprise visitors were there for me. Before I knew it, two reporters from Boston’s Channel 7 News began to explain why they were visiting our classroom.
The Class Act is a special feature on Channel 7 News that highlights “students who deserve to be recognized for doing something outstanding academically, athletically or for their community”. To my surprise, they were presenting the award to me! Gann Academy, my high school, has been extremely supportive of the work I’ve been doing for children with disabilities through dance4empowerment and nominated me for this award. This recognition is humbling and I am grateful to be part of such a compassionate community. More importantly, the award provides me the opportunity to get the word out about dance4empowerment because, in the end, our goal is to improve the lives of the participants in the program.
The mission of dance4empowerment is to help children with disabilities improve their self-esteem, social integration, and cognitive awareness through dance. Further, we want to empower them to share their new skills of “creative expression” to raise money for communities that lack funding for inclusive art programs. Being a recipient of Channel 7’s Class Act award helps me share dance4empowerment’s mission with the greater community and to reach more perspective students. I feel very fortunate to receive this award because of the affect I know it will have on many future students.
I would like to thank Gann Academy for all their support and to Channel 7 News for featuring dance4empowerment on their program; I will share the date and time that the feature will be airing!
Dance, move, and empower,
I am so honored to introduce Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, as a guest blogger for dance4empowerment. His dedication to raising awareness, providing opportunities, creating change for people with disabilities in Boston, Israel, and throughout the world is truly inspiring. I am very fortunate for his support in my endeavors to create and expand dance4empowerment.
Dance, move, and empower,
I am President of a foundation that believes in the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community and society at large. Some would say it’s a lofty idea but too hard to implement. It’s too difficult to change people’s perceptions, tough to erase pre-existing prejudices, too costly or we’re just not ready. I hear this all the time and my answer is: it takes two to tango.
Before learning to dance, you size up your partner: they may not be the same height or same weight, they look clumsy, they’re nervous. In short, they look different from you and you’re very unsure how this will work out.
But then the music starts. You begin to move in tandem, you work together, you start to move flawlessly across the dance floor. Suddenly, what seemed like a potential weakness becomes a strength: you play off of each other. It takes time, it takes patience and you’ll have to work through many potential failures and missteps. But at the end of the journey, you’ve learned to tango!
Inclusion is not as difficult as it seems. Yes, some people with disabilities may look or act different. Yes, it takes time and patience to work with them, get to know them and learn how to include them. But EVERYONE has potential, everyone can contribute, everyone can improve our community.
The Jewish community is an amazing community, one that is dedicated to social justice, tikkun olam (healing the world) and has been at the forefront of every social movement of the last half century. We have the ability to exact lasting change within society at large. The time has come to do the same within our own community for the 20% of our people who have a disability.
It takes two to tango. Take the first step. The end results will be extremely satisfying.
Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
dance4empowerment was featured in two publications this week, the Boston Globe and the Jewish Advocate. I am honored that the Boston community has taken notice of the program and we will continue to promote inclusion for people with disabilities. Please see images below and feel free to spread the word!
Article in the Boston Globe:
Article in the Jewish Advocate:
Dance, move, and empower,