I spend a lot of time inside the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC) building, but my primary role as Project Manager for Made in Opa-locka is to get out into the neighborhood and engage with people, both formally and informally.
Chris, the Community Organizer at the OLCDC, helps by suggesting more formal opportunities for how to meet local residents. He always passes along emails and invitations to attend events such as the County Commissioner’s meetings and after-school programs. This week he invited me to Rainbow Park Elementary School for Career Day. Oftentimes the participants of career day at an underperforming school like Rainbow Park might include a policeman, fireman, parole officer, security guard, postal worker, and maybe a bus driver -- generally they are governmental occupations of authority. I was happy to to represent a less authoritative occupation at career day, that of artist and architect.
Many of the children who live in the Triangle attend Rainbow Park. We thought it would be great to tell them about the Made in Opa-locka project unfolding just around the corner from their homes. We also wanted to learn from the students how we might incorporate their needs and opinions into the project.
Not long after I arrived that morning, in walked the usual suspects of career day volunteers: a policeman, paramedic, security guard, postal worker, and to my surprise a hair stylist.
My presentation was to a third grade class. I asked if they knew what an “architect” was. One student replied, “Someone who paints houses.” Another spoke up, “Someone who makes paintings.” Talk about a circular answer! After engaging in some call-and-response I showed the students an animation of an architecture project as well as some drawings and renderings of buildings. I quickly learned that it does not take much effort to impress nine and ten year olds. Nearing the end of the presentation I asked what the children wanted to be when they grow up. Suddenly there were a lot of future architects in the crowd. The children were very excited and loud. Very loud. But I loved every second of it. A few ambitious ones wanted hugs, otherwise they went to their next class room and the fourth graders arrived.
I know the common adage of “kids say the darndest things” is overused but they really do. Over the course of a day I was told numerous times that “you can’t be an architect, you’re too young”, or asked to return when the children graduate from the school. One child even expressed skepticism when discussing the changes proposed and underway in Magnolia North. It’s alarming when an eleven-year-old kid understands the difficulties of making changes in the neighborhood they call home. Overall it was a very memorable day, the kids were amazing; I had a blast!
-- Germane Barnes