‘Word Wall’ unveiling a triumph for Authoring Action

by Keith Barber

Members of Authoring Action Assegai Outreach Ensemble who contributed to the “Word Wall” include (from left) Cecil Moore, Jordan Anderson, Maurice Shivers and James Terry. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

The unveiling of the “Word Wall,” a public art installation created by Authoring Action upon the edifice of the Breakfast Of Course restaurant off Trade Street in downtown Winston- Salem, on June 3 was a celebration of music and spoken word as well as a testament to the power and potential of a community to come together.

After a scintillating performance in both word and song by Authoring Action Assegai Outreach Ensemble, a drum corps led the young leaders and the scores of guests in attendance to the unveiling.

The youth pulled back a tarp and the mosaic of colorful tiles containing the words of the youth leaders of Authoring Action was revealed to a rapt audience. The words in the mosaic expressed a community manifesto that took the students a full year to create, said Authoring Action co-founder and executive director Lynn Rhoades.

“We started working on manifestos in our summer program, and then we redid manifestos in the fall in the after school program,” Rhoades said. “Then we gleaned the best of what we had, and the kids organized how they wanted to put it together.”

Authoring Action artistic director Nathan Ross Freeman conducted the collaborative sessions where the young people of Authoring Action created a community manifesto. Freeman said the students of Authoring Action spent countless hours finding their individual voices that blended to speak the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all the citizens of Winston-Salem.

“They took that discussion and made it their own,” Freeman said.

“They added their own thesis and they became their own school of thought — that’s what I feel about it. They went from discussion to writing to making the ‘Word Wall’ literally a school of thought and individually each of them had their own iconic signature.”

Rhoades wrote the grant that allowed for local artist Jan Detter to work with Authoring Action’s youth, and Brooke Smith, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors, originally came up with the idea of the “Word Wall” as a way for young people to collaborate with a renowned local artist on a public art installation.

Freeman said the Word Wall is the epitome of a community effort, and countless people in the city contributed to the public art installation.

“It wasn’t city support, this was a city effort — much more than city support; everybody had an integral part and they did it so organically,” Freeman said. “It’s a cliché but in this case a meaningful one: It takes a village. So that’s what I see in this — the ‘Word Wall’ is the definition of that when we talk about our youth. Our youth were totally surrounded by a village.”

And the beautiful thing is all the young people had to do was be themselves in their sincere expressions to create an impressive piece of public art, Freeman said.

“They were protected in that and their freedom of speech was protected in that,” he said.

Maurice Shivers, a member of Authoring Action Assegai Outreach Ensemble, confirmed that students spent hours perfecting their personal manifestos, which were melded into a single powerful statement.

“They only picked lines from the best [pieces] and we still didn’t feel like they’re perfect because we’re still evolving,” Shivers said. “Our manifesto is always going to change but that’s still going to be the one for Winston-Salem.”

Once the students had perfected their words, they worked with Detter to create the tiles that ultimately became the mosaic of the “Word Wall.” Freeman praised the tireless efforts of Detter, Smith and all members of Authoring Aciton’s board of directors for seeing the project through to the end. But ultimately, it is the young people of Authoring Action that deserve all the credit for creating a new vision for Winston-Salem.

“It is a prophecy,” Freeman said. “It is a celebration of the fact that we’ve come this far and it’s an admonishment. That’s why I think about the honesty of the words up there — there’s an admonishment in there. We’re not there yet; we have things we have to do.”

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Diggs Gallery 601 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive Winston Salem