As I write this blog post, two days before the February 13th 808s: Youth Empowerment thru Dance's "Lover's Lane" performance at the Wyllie B. White Field House (1610 W. Howard), 6:30PM, the dancers are busily rehearsing. They all have one goal in mind: to rock the house, and to show all of the attendees that young people, left to their own devices, are capable of putting on a terrific dance show, using their own material, their own creativity, and for many of them, their new found talent.
This has been a seven month ride. The co-founders, neighborhood residents Jermaine Hawk and Jerrell Hawk, ages 22 and 23 years respectively, with the encouragement of their friend, Thomas "Bud" Sanders, came to me in early July, telling me that they wanted to start a dance group for area youth who otherwise had nothing to do.
I could see it in their eyes: they had a special energy and a desire to do something good. I didn't hesitate to say "yes," - because I could tell that they wanted this bad, and I figured that area youth are more likely to follow young adults like them than they would with older, more detached adults. To me, these young people might succeed because the energy came from within themselves - and not from other well intentioned but potentially misguided older folk who think they know better what these kids need.
I offered a bit of encouragement, connections to a few neighborhood resources, and I helped them raise a little bit of money. But the key factors behind their success - the talent, the choreography, the marketing - came from them.
Now, seven months later, we can see how they are succeeding.
Of course the 808s encounter a lot of challenges. Last night, a wonderful videographer, Gretchyn Hasse, posted to YouTube an eleven minute video wherein she captured the challenges and success behind the 808s Holiday performance - their second major show - on November 30, 2011.
There is no fluff or sugar coating in this video. Gretchyn told me that the video is part marketing, part documentary, in that she tried to project the challenges that the 808s founders faced, as they tried to build on their success from their first show. It isn't easy - a youth directed dance troupe occurring in a tough neighborhood, by youth who have no money, suffer from all of the problems urban youth face today, but possessed by a desire to pursue their dreams to find success and acceptance through a creative medium like dance.
Monday's show should be wonderful. The 808s have developed a dynamic relationship with a local Rogers Park dance group called Phoenix Rising Chicago, consisting of talented professionally trained dancers. The collaboration should generate great energy, and I am confident that the 808s dancers will see how their hard work, dedication and focus, despite all of the challenges that they personally (and the community) face, will pay off.