Monday, June 30, 2008

Invisible Children of Birmingham-: Do you see the faces?

I belong to a group on Facebook called 'Invisible Children'--along with 45,000 other people. The children of Uganda are indeed suffering. But at least they have a documentary shown with great fanfare at UAB. Just a few blocks away from campus are children who are equally invisible--the poor children of Birmingham. Their invisibility has been frustratingly hammered home to us in recent weeks.

We have been soliciting funding for Scrollworks from the patrons of local music organizations. Logical, right? People who support music for rich white people should also support music for poor black children. The response has been tepid at best. Some express a mild interest in the youth orchestras, whose members last year were predominantly from the over-the-mountain suburbs, with their own instruments and taking private lessons. The music lovers then tell us the 'check is in the mail'--and it turns out to be less than some of our starving-artist staff has donated.

I guess these people don't see Claudia slipping past their car as she leaves Cave9 with a big smile and the cheap violin we've lent her for the summer--a violin that cost less than their last fill-up at the gas pump. I guess they miss the knots of children from the housing project skipping up to the door, only to scatter inside among the teachers and instruments for hours of learning, friendship, and escape.

I've given over $45,000 and these faces still haunt me night and day, driving me to give more: Armani, who calls me almost daily to ask for a ride to the Avondale ensembles so he can spend a few more hours with an instrument--any instrument, despite a sometimes humiliating struggle to keep up with the other children who have instruments at home to practice on and private teachers to consult. The Hill 4th and 5th graders who are so proud of their musical accomplishments that they choose to sit with their instruments during the entire final program rather than with their classmates.

There are some in Birmingham who know the potential of Scrollworks. The parents emptying every coin in their pocketbooks into the donation bucket. The staff of Hill who viewed us skeptically in February, but now give a warm greeting and rush to help when we bump through the door with armloads of instruments. The policeman who handed back a license when it was explained that the driver had missed a complete stop in a rush to teach for Scrollworks. The handwritten note on a blank parking ticket that said, "Thanks for what you are doing for our children."

We see the faces of Birmingham's children. Do you?

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