Jocelyn Rainey made a decision that her students should see the world. So she took them there.
For some people, just the concept of how to transport a group of Detroit kids from Detroit to Paris, Egypt, or China, would be more than enough calculations to tie their brains up in pretzels trying to undo all the reasons why there was probably no way this was ever going to happen. Rainey’s solution was just figuring it was going to happen first, then going about the business of making it so.
Last week, at the N’Namdi Gallery in Midtown, Rainey, who is an artist as well as a teacher, previewed her “1001 Conversations About Color”, a beautiful collection of 6”X6” abstract canvases, each of them unique, fun explorations of color and texture. Each canvas was priced at $100, and the proceeds went to Finding Mona Lisa 313: Urban Students Become Global Citizens, which is Rainey’s educational outreach program that provides a “global travel experience in the visual arts for high school students” from Detroit. The canvases will be on display at the N’Namdi Gallery until they are sold. At the Dec. 1 Friday evening premiere, there were three entire walls full of canvases, marked by some notable gaps where a canvas had already been purchased and removed.
This is definitely art for a worthy cause, a cause which actually began a decade ago when Rainey made that life-altering decision to just go ahead and do it.
“In 2007 I had been teaching school for 7 years, an all-male high school in Detroit, alternative high school. I taught art history. And so I just woke up one day and was wondering if my students would ever see the paintings that I taught them about. And the paintings that they were duplicating. Because that’s how I was teaching them.”
“I asked my 11th grade class did they want to go to see the Mona Lisa, and they said ‘yeah’. So I said, we’re gonna go on a field trip. We’re gonna find Mona Lisa. And so they asked me where were we going and I said Paris. I didn’t know how we were gonna get there, but I knew that we were going. …And so they told their parents, and we started to fund raise. I wrote them a letter that they could give to their family members so people could give a little bit here and a little bit there.
So after making the announcement the previous October and starting the fund raiser, “we went to Paris in 2007 in April. It was six high school boys and one male chaperone, who was one of my previous students.”
The school was Loyola High School. Although Rainey started with only males “because they need a little bit more”, her nieces convinced her that young girls need this sort of exposure as well.
Oh, and she also developed a curriculum too, which included language class, culture class, journal writing, photography and fundraising. All of the kids had to do community service.
“That’s how they meet each other; they do community service. I figure if they’re doing something greater than themselves, they’ll be able to let down their guards with each other and get to know each other better.”
Yes. Just like that. Only it didn’t end there. Because except for a brief break beginning in 2012 when her grandmother became ill, Rainey has been managing to take small groups of Detroit kids to someplace different around the world every year since then, including Spain (the year after Paris), Japan, Egypt, Costa Rica, China, Cuba, and South Africa which they visited this year. The trips last, on average for 7-10 days. The size of the travel group averages 6-10 students, but she’s hoping to expand the size to at least a dozen. Hence the fundraiser at the N’Namdi Gallery. And if you hurry, there may still be a canvas left on the wall with your name on it.
“The main thing is that these students are able to go into another culture, a foreign culture, and survive that culture. And not only that, grasp the culture. Just take in all of the mood and the people…and the people are happy to see them! Ecstatic to see these black and brown kids,” said Rainey.
“What happens is they learn to respect differences, but they also learn how to embrace the similarities that we all have as human beings.”
“The community is the one that funds these trips. They want to see these kids go out. And the biggest thing they understand that anything that they dream and anything they want to do can come true. Because if you’re walking around Detroit, and then the next day you’re riding camels next to the pyramids..? Or swimming in the Nile? I mean, c’mon. Your dream can come true. It opens up everything. And it helps you understand that the world is way larger than your little neighborhood.”
“We have to globalize our students. It’s about being global now. We make the world into a classroom, and they’re learning all day.”