I’m a wife, a mom, and a grandmother (affectionately known as Grammy by my grandgirl Cierra). A typical day starts at 7:00 AM and concludes around 8:00 PM, working Saturdays, and participating in lots of evening events – a similar schedule to many of my arts advocacy colleagues. Work and family are what I eat, breath, and sleep. Most of the time one is as important as the other and each have their distinct needs and rewards.
On April 26, 2010, my world came crashing down around me when our 31-year-old son TJ died. It isn’t supposed to happen this way. Parents should not bury their children. Through TJ’s death, our grieving, and our memories I now see the world through different lenses. Simple things are more valuable, time is critical, making contacts a necessity since we’re not sure how much time we have, and telling our stories is essential to our future.
I rarely reflect, and until recently didn’t remember, why or how I got into the arts and arts education advocacy business. Thinking back on TJ’s life reminded me that he was the reason.
TJ was our theater and music kid. His brothers Josh (the athlete) and Ryan (the dreamer and reader) offered up other ways to get involved as parents. But theatre and music programs require a special kind of parent volunteer. You have to fight for the music and drama programs in schools. You have to raise money and pay for band camp. You have to work on levy campaigns to protect arts education programs. You have to take long bus rides to get to Disney or a special by-invitation-only parade. You have to pay a special facility fee to keep the theater open late for Friday night’s show and Saturday’s matinee. You have to drive five kids to the next concert so the show choir can perform at the retirement home. You have to compete for time and resources with the athletic boosters and PTAs.
TJ knew about advocacy!
As a high school student he was always asking for more than was offered, demanding resources, and skipping lunch just to have the chance to be more engaged in theater education. He learned quickly about how to work the system. TJ was savvy. He gave me the courage to speak at school board meetings, meet with state legislators, and write letters to plead the case for arts education. TJ rewarded my efforts by taking an interest in community theatre after he graduated from high school. And yes, the not-for-profit community theater needed advocates too. TJ was so smart.
Of course what I didn’t realize at the time was that TJ was training me in arts and arts education advocacy. TJ was the teacher and I was the student. TJ did a great job, so much so, that I began to teach others about advocacy and the rest is history!
We all have much work to do in the arts education advocacy arena. I’ve pledged that I will spend thirty minutes every single day engaged in arts education advocacy at a very personal level. I will make phone calls, send emails, read the research, talk to colleagues, share data and resources, educate policy makers, and encourage students to take an advocacy stance for arts education in their own communities. I invite you to join me in remembering TJ by being an advocate for arts education. I can’t think of a better way to honor my teacher – my son. I hope you will join me!