2016 Harmony Award: RISE Collective
By Letecia Rose
Have you ever gone to a place where you felt yourself being lifted? Where people rejoice, dance, break into song, and warmly embrace strangers? Where emotions are worn freely on sleeves; where men and women shed tears together? Where words inspire and provide food for the soul?
This is what you will find every Monday at Burrows Hall in Scarborough. Hundreds of young people gather weekly to share in positivity, edutainment and of course, listen to poetry. They come to be elevated, surge upward, be uplifted, experience growth, transform – they come to rise.
Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (RISE) has become more than a movement; it has become a space for people from all walks of life to gather and share collective energy and collective impact. And the impact is vast and deep. In five short years, this youth-led movement has entered the consciousness of Toronto, performing at various institutions and headlining multiple events.
But their work extends beyond smooth verses and captivating rhythms. RISE has used their platform to work with the City of Toronto to influence policy by artistically hosting various community town halls. They use their poetry to grace the pages of the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Report.
I first met the creator and innovator behind RISE, Randell Adjei, in 2012. Quite frankly, he blew me away. He told me of this little group that he started that brought out twenty to thirty people weekly. He believed that young people needed an outlet to share and be creative. According to him, there was no space like it. He was convinced that this space was going to change the city.
I was convinced that he was right.
So far, the work of RISE has garnered the attention of some of the legends in the Toronto arts industry. They use their platform and stage to train, mentor and provide artistic development for emerging artists, providing them with the opportunity to be heard and feel validated by a supportive community. They root their teachings in anti-oppressive frameworks and create equitable safe spaces of dignity and respect.
In July of 2012, gunfire erupted over a crowd on Danzing Street, fatally taking the lives of Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay. Many others were wounded and injured. It was one of the worst acts of violence in Toronto’s history and a moment that critically impacted Scarborough and the rest of the GTA.
However, many of the young people who should have been there made a different choice that evening. They went to RISE. Since then, RISE has made it their mission to advocate for safe spaces and self-expression for all.
As the former Director of Education at Harmony Movement, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most dynamic and inspiring change makers in the province. I can say without hesitation that RISE is in a league of its own. I owe my creative resurgence and renewed passion for creating opportunities for young people to their ingenuity and constant innovation.
The RISE collective is creating an environment of social change by cultivating spaces for young people to address issues that really matter to them and their community. RISE is making the invisible, visible. It is a movement is so powerful and poetic; you have no choice but to listen. And from there all change is possible.
Letecia Rose is an arts educator, facilitation trainer, and community engagement specialist. She is currently Manager of Public Engagement at Plan International Canada.