What Happened to Keisha?

I wrote an article for The Ride or Die Project Blog which was launched this week. Check it out…

The Ride or Die Project

By Amanda Parris Note: This article includes hyperlinks to videos and articles that include intense scenes of violence. Click at your own discretion. A question that I asked all of the interviewees in the first phase of research for The Ride or Die Project was: How would you define what it means to be ride-or-die? In the numerous varied responses that I received, there was one name that kept coming up. When the name was said, I would smile and nod in recognition and we would laugh and shake our heads as though reminiscing over an old friend. However, she was not someone any of us knew personally. She also was not a celebrity or well-known actor. She was not a rapper or a b-girl or a graf writer. This person did not preside over turntables, host radio shows or direct music videos. In fact…this person was not even “real.” The…

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Check out Footage from “In Conversation With…”


After procrastinating for way too long I finally uploaded the footage from my session of In Conversation with…and now I am finally (after procrastinating again) sharing it with folks beyond the very few who are subscribed to my YouTube channel. It is a pretty long talk and so I broke it down into chapters with a short synopsis describing what I am talking about in each chapter. I have also put them into a playlist so you can watch from beginning to end if you so choose.

Just a re-cap on the event itself:

On Monday, September 15th, 2014 Manifesto in partnership with Cultural Hotspot: Next presented a session of “In Conversation with…” Featuring Amanda Parris and hosted by Tina Khan at R.I.S.E Poetry

Part 1 – In this section I discuss the start of my educational experience

Part 2 – In this segment, I discuss the creation of R.O.O.T.S. and Lost Lyrics

Part 3 – In this section I discuss my academic research and experiences as a Visiting Scholar at NYU.

Part 4 – In this section I discuss The Ride or Die Project.

Part 5 – In this section I discuss artivism, mentorship and Rhymes to Re-Education

Part 6 – In this section I discuss pop culture.

Part 7 – In this section, I respond to Q&A

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Thesis Research Presentation at the Power of the Arts National Forum at Carleton U

Toronto Youth Cabinet Ignite n' Impact Awards 2012

Toronto Youth Cabinet Ignite n’ Impact Awards 2012

Between November 7 and 9, 2014, Carleton University will be hosting the Power of the Arts National Forum. This year’s theme is “Acting Now for Social Change.”

The Forum is co-organized by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation and Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. It convenes researchers, business leaders, legal experts, policymakers, urban planners, architects, youth, health practitioners, artists, and representatives of other key sectors of Canadian society. The main objectives of the Forum are to reinforce a Pan-Canadian and multi-sector network of researchers, practitioners and organizations using the arts as tools for social change and to enhance an action plan reinforcing national, regional and local initiatives using the arts to improve the quality of life in underserved communities.

I will be presenting my thesis research on Saturday, November 8th during the Public Safety and Access to Justice Workshop.

Presentation Summary:

This presentation is inspired by my direct experiences as a Hip Hop educator and my subsequent journey as a scholar to document and investigate the potential of Hip Hop education in the task of social transformation. Specifically I will introduce the possible challenge Hip Hop educational spaces can pose to the punitive and exclusionary norms that constitute the cultural groundwork of the school to prison pipeline. I will also consider how the strategies employed by Hip Hop educators when dealing with conflict and violence in the classroom, have the potential to challenge general ideas of how justice is defined in contemporary North American society.

The normalized presence of police in schools as the first response for principals in disciplinary action, the increasing use of lawyers as everyday advocates for students, the correlation between exclusion (i.e. suspension, expulsion and dropout rates) and increased chances of incarceration illustrates that Canada’s notion of justice in education is closely related and often borrows from the criminal justice system. Considering that as bodies that are raced, gendered and classed, the populations that receive consistent punishment in the school system fit a similar discursive structure as bodies within penal institutions, it becomes apparent that particular societal relations of power are being produced and reproduced from the classroom to the prison.

This conversation on justice is not only a consideration of it as a historically constituted concept but also presents justice as a practice that is embedded in technologies of morality, regulation and management. In recognizing the capacity that educational institutions play in legitimizing and reproducing dominant culture this presentation will create a space to explore the simultaneous potential of the classroom to be a space for disruption, questioning and innovation.

Based on the research I conducted for my M.A. thesis, I will be sharing data gathered through interviews with Hip Hop educators in New York and Toronto that details their attempts to create alternative spaces of learning. The focus on Hip Hop educators who are invested and committed to social justice provides a unique opportunity to find parallels and intersections between a Hip Hop world-view and practices of restorative justice.

For more information on the forum and to see a detailed program, please visit the Michaëlle Jean Foundation website:  http://www.fmjf.ca/en/programs/power-arts/

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Amanda Parris is a Guest Speaker Today at Centennial College’s Creativity in Context Course

I will be visiting Centennial College’s Creativity in Context course to speak about Music Community Engagement in Canada. I have been asked to speak about how I developed skills to achieve my creative projects and how I help creative professionals achieve their objectives. It has been interesting to reflect on the huge role music has played on my work considering that I am not a musician by any stretch of the imagination.

Thank you to Michael Murray for the invitation.

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32C at Alameda Theatre’s De Colores Festival (October 23rd)

De Colores

Amanda Parris’ one-woman play 32C is being presented at Alameda Theatre’s De Colores Festival this Thursday, October 23rd.  The reading marks the culmination of her one-year playwriting residency where she worked under the guidance and support of dramaturge Stephen Colella to develop the script she began back in 2008 while an artist-in-residence at d’bi young’s anitafrika dub theatre (now called Yemoya).  The festival is also the final instalment by Alameda Theatre which will be closing at the end of this season. Alameda Theatre Company produces Canadian theatre with a distinct Latin American perspective. The De Colores Festival of New Works is a playwright’s unit and festival that exclusively features Latin American Canadian writers and exposes Canadian audiences to new theatrical works featuring Latin American actors and directors.

32C is a one-woman play by Amanda Parris that explores the baggage that three generations of women accumulate, carry and unpack through their intimate relationships. The play moves across time, borrowing from settings such as the Salem witch trials, the Grenada Revolution and toonie-Tuesday movie nights at Sheridan Mall in Toronto.  The audience is invited to ride on the 32C Eglinton West bus as a triptych of stories reveal the ways masks are constructed, armour is tightened and baggage is carried and passed on.

Written by Amanda Parris
Starring: Bahia Watson
Directed by: Anita LaSelva
Dramaturgy by: Stephen Colella

When: October 23rd
Time: 8pm
Where: Wychwood Theatre at Artscape Wychwood Barns (601 Christie Street)

For more information, please visit: http://www.alamedatheatre.com/decolores2014.html

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Geoffrey Holder’s Last Dance


Originally posted by Karyn Parson on Facebook:

Leo Holder, Geoffrey Holder’s son, wrote the following beautiful letter detailing his father’s final days and hours. It is a moving tribute to a remarkable man. I have been told that it is okay to share.

Please keep Carmen, Leo, and their friends and family, in your thoughts and prayers.

“From Leo Holder: This Is A True Story (Please feel free to share widely)

Geoffrey Holder 1930-2014

October 5th

A little more than a week after developing pneumonia, Geoffrey Holder made a decision. He was calling the shots as always. He was done. 2 attempts at removing the breathing tube didn’t show promising results. In his truest moment of clarity since being rolled into I.C.U. he said he was good. Mouthing the words “No, I am not afraid” without a trace of negativity, sadness or bitterness, he sincerely was good with it. He had lived the fullest life he could possibly live, a 70 + year career in multiple art forms, and was still creating. Still painting, a bag of gold (of course) fabric and embellishments in his room for a new dress for my mother, sculptures made out of rope, baseball caps and wire hangers. New ideas every second, always restlessly chasing his too fertile mind. A week of breathing tubes and restrained hands had forced him to communicate with only cryptic clues which I was fortunate enough to be able to decipher at best 40% of the time. The fact that we all struggled to understand him enraged him to the point that he could sometimes pull tantrums taking up to 4 people to restrain him from pulling out the wires. He was head strong (understatement), but he was also physically strong. Iron hand grip that no illness could weaken. 9 days of mouthing words that, because of the tubes, produced no sound forcing him to use his eyes to try to accentuate the point he was trying to make. But this didn’t mean he wasn’t still Geoffrey Holder. This didn’t mean an end to taking over. Holding court as he always did. Directing and ordering people around. Choreographing. Getting his way. We still understood that part, and the sight of his closest friends and extended family brought out the best in him. Broad smiles in spite of the tubes, nodding approval of anything that met his standard (which was very high), and exuding pride and joy in all those in whom he saw a spark of magic and encouraged to blossom. The week saw a parade of friends from all over the world checking in to see him, hold is hand, rub his head, and give him the latest gossip. But he was still trying to tell me something, and although I was still the best at deciphering what he was saying, I still wasn’t getting it.

Saturday night I had a break through. After a good day for him, including a visit by Rev. Dr. Forbes, Senior Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church who offered prayer and described Geoffrey’s choreography as prayer itself, which made him beam, I brought in some music. “Bill Evans with Symphony Orchestra”, one of his all time favorites. He had once choreographed a piece to one of the cuts on the album… a throwaway ballet to fill out the program, but the music inspired him. From his bed, he started to, at first sway with the music, then the arms went up, and Geoffrey started to dance again. In his bed. Purest of spirits. Still Geoffrey Holder. Then he summoned me to take his hands, and this most unique dancer / choreographer pulled himself up from his bed as if to reach the sky. It was then I broke the code: he was telling me he was going to dance his way out. Still a Geoffrey Holder production. If it had been up to him, this evening’s solo would have been it. The higher he pulled himself up, the higher he wanted to fly. I had to let him down. Not yet. There are friends and family coming in from out of town. He resignedly shrugged his shoulders, closed his eyes and went to sleep.

I got it. Really. I got it. I walked out of the hospital elated. Ate a full meal for the first time in days, slept like a baby after. The next day would be his last. I was not sad. It wasn’t stressful for me to deal with him in this state. It was an honor and a privilege to tend to anything he needed. This impromptu dance was his dress rehearsal.
Next morning, I show up early. Possible second thoughts? Should we wait? What if he changes his mind? Did he understand what we were talking about here? Thoroughly. Mind as clear as crystal. “You still game for our dance tonight?” A nod, a smile, and a wink, with tubes still down his throat.. We’re still on. But he still wants to do it NOW. NOT later. He’s cranky. Sulks a while. Sleeps a while. Eventually snaps out of it.

From noon on, a caravan of friends and family from all over the globe comes through the ICU wing. Ages 1 to 80. Young designers and artists he nurtured and who inspired him. Younger dancers he encouraged to always play to the rear balcony with majesty. The now “elder statesmen” dancers on whom he built some of his signature ballets. His rat pack of buddies. Wayward saints he would offer food, drink, a shoulder to cry on, a couch to sleep it off, and lifetime’s worth of deep conversation and thought. Closest and oldest friends. Family.
They know they are here to say goodbye. He knows they are here to say goodbye. He greets them beaming with joy to see them. By this time I’m reading his lips better and am able to translate for him as much as I can. The last of them leave. It’s time for his one true love to have her time with him. His muse. Her champion. This is their time. 59 years distilled into 5 minutes of the gentlest looks and words as she caresses his noble brow one last time. She puts a note she wrote to him in is hand. She leaves.
Everyone is gone except me. My moment. I will be with him as he goes.
One more time: “you good?” Nod & faint smile. ‘you ready?” He is.
I have asked the doctors to not start the morphine drip right away, because I want him to have his solo on his own time. Knowing him, he might stop breathing right after his finale. For dramatic effect. He’s still Geoffrey Holder.
They remove the tube that has imprisoned him for the past 9 days and robbed this great communicator of the ability to speak. I remove the mittens that prevent his hands from moving freely.
I start the music, take his hands and start leading him, swaying them back and forth. And he lets go of me. He’s gonna wing it as he was prone to do when he was younger. Breathing on his own for the last time, Geoffrey Holder, eyes closed, performs his last solo to Bill Evans playing Faure’s Pavane. From his deathbed. The arms take flight, his beautiful hands articulate through the air, with grace. I whisper “shoulders” and they go into an undulating shimmy, rolling like waves. His Geoffrey Holder head gently rocks back and forth as he stretches out his right arm to deliver his trademark finger gesture, which once meant “you can’t afford this” and now is a subtle manifestation of pure human spirit and infinite wisdom. His musical timing still impeccable, bouncing off the notes, as if playing his own duet with Evan’s piano. Come the finale, he doesn’t lift himself of the bed as he planned; instead, one last gentle rock of the torso, crosses his arms and turns his head to the side in a pose worthy of Pavlova. All with a faint, gentile smile.
The orchestra finishes when he does. I loose it.
They administer the morphine drip and put an oxygen mask over his face. and I watch him begin taking his last breaths.
I put on some different music. I sit and watch him sleep, and breathe… 20 minutes later, he’s still breathing albeit with this gurgling sound you can hear though the mask. Another several minutes go by, he’s still breathing. Weakly, but still breathing… then his right hand starts to move. It looks like he’s using my mother’s note like a pencil, scratching the surface of the bed as if he’s drawing. This stops a few minutes later, then the left hand begins tapping. Through the oxygen mask the gurgling starts creating it’s own rhythm. Not sure of what I’m hearing, I look up to see his mouth moving. I get closer to listen: “2, 3, 4….2, 3, 4… He’s counting! It gets stronger, and at it’s loudest sounds like the deep purr of a lion, then he says “Arms, 2, 3, 4, Turn, 2, 3, 4, Swing, 2, 3, 4, Down, 2, 3, 4….”
I called my mother at home, where she was having a reception in his honor. She picks up. There are friends and family telling Geoffrey stories simultaneously laughing and crying in the background.
“Hi, honey, Are you alright?”
“Yes actually… he hasn’t stopped breathing yet.” I tell her about his solo, which brings her to a smile and a lightening of mood. I continue:
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure Honey. What?
“Who the hell did you marry?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re not gonna believe this. He’s got a morphine drip, going on over half an hour, an oxygen mask on, his eyes closed, AND HE’S CHOREOGRAPHING!”
This brings her to her first laugh of the day. She now knows we will be alright.
He continues on like this for quite a while, and a doctor comes in to take some meter readings of the machines. I ask the doctor if this is normal. As she begins to explain to me about the process, his closed eyes burst open focused straight on us like lasers and he roars with all his might: ”SHUT UUUUUUUUUUUUUP!!! YOU’RE BREAKING MY CONCENTRATION!!!!!!!”
We freeze with our mouths open. He stares us down. long and hard.
Then he closes his eyes again, “Arms, 2, 3, 4, Turn, 2, 3, 4, Swing, 2, 3, 4, Down, 2, 3, 4…”
He continued counting ’til it faded out, leaving only the sound of faint breathing, slowing down to his very last breath at 9:25 pm
Still Geoffrey Holder.
The most incredible night of my life.
Thank you for indulging me.

Love & best,

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Survey Request from Amanda Parris and Rakhi Mutta

We are working on a project seeking some data from people who identify as female and live in Toronto. This survey is an attempt to gather some insight into the experiences people have had in work environments and the things they would desire in their ideal work space. If you could take a moment to fill out this survey it would be very much appreciated. The survey should take no longer than 5 minutes to complete.
Please click here for here for the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/W7HP2WC
Your time and feedback is very much appreciated!

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