It started out as a typical monthly assembly at New Highland Academy (NHA), one of Luna’s partner schools. The MC, a 4th grade teacher with a guitar, struck up “Down by the Bay” and in moments the room was filled with exuberant singing voices. Such joyful scenes are common at NHA, where the arts—music, visual art, and dance—are central to the school culture. One way NHA keeps dance and the other arts at the forefront is by presenting performances and “artist of the month” awards at their all-school assemblies. This month’s gathering featured a structured improvisation by an adrenaline-pumped class of 2nd graders. They danced with expression, poise and focus, the act of performing having transformed them from a squirrely pack of reluctant listeners into serious little dance artists. Just after the applause died down, the Vice Principal buzzed in over the loud speaker.
We are officially on lock down. Local police have informed us of violent activity outside the school. No one may leave the cafeteria until further notice.
Gasps and murmurs spread through the room. Some kindergartners broke into tears. Instinctively, the MC snatched up her guitar. “If we’re stuck here, we might as well sing!” And sing we did. Song after song. The students’ favorite seemed to be a Spanish tune that had them dance various body parts in different ways. I was struck by how absorbed they became in the movement. Kindergartners with tear marks still on their cheeks were smiling, singing, and dancing with gusto.
Suddenly I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. I felt privileged to do this work, to share in this moment. Gun violence, and the fear and suspicion it breeds, is a threat these children face every day. But within the locked doors of that room, joy, community and expression abounded. It was another hour before we were allowed outside, but I never grew antsy or bored.
Situations like this one remind us that the arts are not merely a treat, but a life-giving necessity. There is within them an inherent power, one greater than the forces of hate and division. The question is, will those of us convinced of this truth keep up the fight for their importance? The long campaign never seems to end. Even so, there is joy and sustenance in this work. May we embrace it whole-heartedly.