Dear City Hall,
Having taught or volunteered in Richmond's public high schools for more than 10 years, I've gained an understanding of the violence and anger that your office is trying to control through the proposed ban on dance halls within the city of Richmond.
In my classroom this past year at John Marshall High School, I erected a Gun Violence Memorial Wall, on which my students were encouraged to post remembrances of those who lost their lives because of violence. I was astounded and disheartened by the unending thread of lives destroyed and affected by fighting, and ultimately deaths of my students' friends and families. But also through this experience and the 10 years of filling my heart and mind of the souls of these children, I know that the approach being taken by the city to curb violence through the concentration of dance clubs is by no means going to make the intended difference.
Before Valentine's Day, the halls of my school were littered with indecent and disturbing fliers with half-naked women in overtly sexual stances that were made to advertise a dance for high-school students throughout the city. I swept up as many of these as I could, talked to my students about how they should feel that this effort to corrupt them was beneath their intelligence and faculties, and that they shouldn't accept this in their lives, and how the efforts of club owners to persuade them through such means is demeaning and disgusting.
I had a large number of my students decide not to attend that dance or any of the others that were advertised to them in such a way. It was a simple conversation. But it's a conversation that too often doesn't take place.
Communication is the key. Education is the key. Prohibition of dancing is not.
The young people who you're trying to protect will listen, as they do not wish to put their own lives in danger. I've learned that through even their own life difficulties, more difficulties than we tend to give them credit for, they have goals and dreams for themselves. But they are teenagers and it is known psychology: what you take away is what they'll want. It's the nature of their growing independence, and that should be respected both through the educational and recreational development of these young people.
We should also recognize the importance of dancing and the expression that it allows for all people in this city. Dancing is not dangerous. It exerts the immense energies that we all have and is one of the greatest releases for aggressiveness and frustration. The historical interdependence between dancing and culture and expression weaves itself throughout all of our communities and should not be seen merely as a bump-and-grind method to violence. I've been a dancer from a very young age, and as a 35-year-old woman who loves to listen to jazz and hip-hop, salsa and even Gwar, I abhor the idea that I wouldn't be able to freely express my appreciation of music through movement. I'm even more saddened that this method of self-expression would be taken from the young people of this city.
So this issue of violence could be helped by that which you propose to take away.
If we as a community care enough about the level of violence and the toll that it takes on a person's ability to become successful, educated, thoughtful and joyful, then we must take greater steps than a simple strike. We must provide and encourage more. We must acknowledge and communicate. We must invest and provide for all the residents of this city. We must not forget that the ears of most are open, that hearts of most are accepting and that the desires of most are good. It is our duty as people and residents, and of our elected representatives, to think beyond the simple and to expand upon what we know, but often don't want to talk about, in order to provide alternatives to activities that could be detrimental to our city.
Though it is summer, the faces of my students are still omnipresent and I worry about their safety daily. I also hope for immense joy for them. If we provided an inspiring method to introduce new forms of dance, music, culture and the arts we'd be feeding the souls of our weary neighbors, not decreasing the options for us all. Open the dance halls. But open them while simultaneously shouting and whispering the message of love and introspection, of movement and of education, and do so through the actions of creating positive options.
It's always the relationship of the older, wiser parent to see and push back against the defiant youngster. This ebb and flow has been a continual part of our evolution as people and yet we never seem to learn the most basic aspects: to keep them safe by allowing them to see the options and making choices for themselves. If the parents make all the choices, if the city makes all the choices, we'll have an abundance of youngsters who run to the darker corners and not look within the brighter mirror of themselves and say that I deserve the choice.
And they do. We all do.
Victoria Schnettler is a high school teacher with the Richmond Public Schools, owner and principal linguist of Linguistic Arts and an education activist.
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