The Foundation for Respectability, a Cornelius-based anti-bullying group, this month sponsors an afternoon with Peter, Paul and Mary’s Peter Yarrow and award-winning multi-genre musician Billy Jonas. The singers will perform a special concert, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” at the Knight TheatreOct. 30 at 3 p.m. to promote bully-free school and community environments.
Mr. Yarrow has performed “Don’t Laugh at Me” concerts throughout the U.S. and the world through his nonprofit organization, Operation Respect. The Foundation for Respect Ability, together with Mr. Yarrow’s Operation Respect, works to provide “Don’t Laugh at Me” programs, workshops and concerts in local schools.
“We are committed to bringing this program to the Charlotte area and our work has already been a catalyst for change with two pilot school programs, concerts to hundreds of children, staff and teacher workshops in both Iredell and Mecklenburg County,” said Arlene Berkman, Board Chair and Founder of the Foundation.
At the Oct. 30 concert, Mr. Yarrow will perform such iconic songs as “If I Had A Hammer,” “Blowing In The Wind,” “Puff, The Magic Dragon” and “Don’t Laugh At Me,” the anthem of Operation Respect’s school-based program.
Billy Jonas, who has performed with Mr. Yarrow in the past, is known internationally for highly engaging and energetic performances. He combines influences from folk, jazz, nonwestern traditions and one-of-a-kind sources, including the audience’s imagination. His latest CD, “Happy Accidents,” received a USA Today “10 Best of 2009” award and in April 2010, Billy and the Band were invited to play at the White House.
Joining Mr. Yarrow and Mr. Jonas, the Pineville Elementary School Choir and the Charlotte Children’s Choir also will perform Oct. 30.
Proceeds from ticket sales will be used to foster the Don’t Laugh at Me program in more local area schools and organizations.
Songwriter Steve Seskin led a songwriting workshop with 27 selected fifth- and sixth-graders from around the Charlotte region. With his help, the students wrote their own song and performed it in a concert the same day.
At Mooresville's Charles Mack Citizen Center on a recent Sunday afternoon, award-winning songwriter Steve Seskin led a chorus of youthful voices as they worked together to create songs about character, tolerance and understanding.
Seskin, who has written seven No. 1 hits, was in town to co-lead a workshop Oct. 2 hosted by the Foundation for Respect Ability, a local nonprofit devoted to stopping bullying in all forms.
With a well-used guitar slung over his shoulder, Seskin strolled the room, soliciting ideas from 27 fifth- and sixth-graders from throughout the Charlotte region whose schools had nominated them to attend the workshop.
After a brief how-to lesson on songwriting, the students jumped into the day's task: Write a song that would encourage tolerance and respect among all people. They faced an early deadline: They would perform the song that resulted from their work in a live concert at 5 p.m. that same day.
Seskin told the children, "Normally it may take me 30 or 40 hours to write a song. We're doing it today in four."
Excited students called out ideas to Seskin, who quickly captured them on a board and put them to music.
"How does this sound?" Seskin asked the students after combining a certain verse with music.
"We need to sound it out longer," answered one.
"This word doesn't sound quite right to me," called another.
Eager hands waved in the air as students provided a steady stream of input.
With each suggestion, Seskin would try a few musical options, using various keys and chords and searching for the right artistic metaphors, until the group settled on a preferred version.
Seskin's co-leader for the workshop was Sid Krupkin. Krupkin, a professional musician who has performed with Peter Yarrow (the "Peter" in the famed folk group Peter, Paul & Mary), is the education and artistic director for the Foundation for Respectability.
Cornelius resident Arlene Berkman started the foundation, modeling it after an organization called Operation Respect. Berkman, a retired teacher, said young people are losing their ability to understand how words can affect, and sometimes hurt, another person.
"Computers and keyboards don't allow for a human response," Berkman said. "The kids can't see how their words are affecting others."
When she decided to take action to help students embrace tolerance and respect, she knew it would be built around music and arts.
"As a teacher, I saw many well-intentioned programs designed to help young people, but many of them did not really engage students or teachers," she said. "Music and arts get everyone involved in a way that a program in a notebook can't."
Diane Benson is executive director of the foundation. "Our mission is to empower children and adults to become 'upstanders' instead of 'bystanders' in all situations were bullying exists," she said.
During the past year, the foundation has provided concerts at area schools and workshops for parents, educators and community leaders, Benson said. Locally, the foundation is providing pilot programs at Pineville Elementary School and the Woodlawn School in Mooresville.
As they moved into their second hour, Seskin and Krupkin encouraged the students. "All right, we've got to finish this chorus," Seskin said, eyeing his watch. The students sang along with the professionals as they recorded the latest version of their song on a laptop computer.
At the 5 p.m. concert, the students performed their newly created song. Adults in the audience tapped their feet and sang along as the energetic Seskin led the students in their catchy chorus:
You can sit and watch it happen, or you can choose to take some action.
Stand up for someone who can't stand up for themself.
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