MeMA-Music News Story 8-8-17

MeMA-Music Continues Growth on Chicago’s South and West Sides As It Changes Students’ Lives  by Justin Breen, BrEpic Communications.  August 7, 2017

(Langford Academy, Englewood, Chicago)

Jeanne Warsaw-Gazga believes music represents “an inner emotional journey through highs, lows and sometimes goosebumps.”  “I love the way words and music, combined, create such a unique synthesis of expression and emotion.”

Warsaw-Gazga runs social justice-based arts curriculum called Motivate and Encourage Music Appreciation. The program, better known as MeMA-Music, began as a pilot program and is now in its sixth year at Stone Academy in Rogers Park. MeMA expanded to Langford Academy in Englewood last year and will be running at Lawndale Community Elementary Academy for the first time starting this fall.

“I think it is so incredibly important for young people to have a safe space to discuss their feelings, good or bad,” said Warsaw-Gazga, a Highland Park native and Jefferson Park resident. “They need to be heard. They need encouragement and a hopeful path toward their future with all that is going on in our world today. … I would like to see this duplicated in as many schools as possible. It’s really important what we’re doing.”

The addition of Lawndale Academy fills a special place in Warsaw-Gazga’s heart. Her father’s great-grandparents lived in Lawndale, and the Lawndale Academy building used to be the Jewish People’s Institute of Chicago, the largest and most active Jewish educational and recreational center of its kind in the United States. For Warsaw-Gazga, who is Jewish, bringing MeMA to Lawndale Academy, is like returning to her roots.

MeMA’s program documents the vibrant history and culture of America in the 1960s and 1970s through analyzing socially conscious, politically-charged music and video clips from the era. Students make connections to present-day, real-world issues facing their generation, including discrimination, equal rights, bullying, violence and even suicide. The program closes with a culminating showcase where students undertake immersive research on a current social issue of their choice and create their own projects represented by songwriting, spoken word, multimedia, drama and artwork.

Warsaw-Gazga worked as a record promoter for a quarter-century, including with the Rolling Stones, Isaac Hayes and Janet Jackson, and she witnessed how music brought people together.

She’s brought those values and lessons to schools that use MeMA.

“Our program teaches students to examine the fundamental questions of economic and social inequalities, moral values, civic rights and duties, and the quest for peace,” Warsaw-Gazga said.

“I can’t stress enough how helpful this class has been in my first year of high school,” said Abu Qader, who was part of the program as an eighth-grader at Stone Academy. “While all the other freshman were having trouble understanding the new open discussions we were having in class and making connections to real life events, I was already a pro.”

Warsaw-Gazga grew up in the 1960s, when she said “the message in the songs were so powerful, and I especially loved how it brought people together in a positive and non-violent manner, to share in working toward a peaceful and equal society.” She said she’s a good mixture of her parents, Bob, a tail gunner in World War II who played minor league baseball and, at age 92, is still hitting home runs for a senior softball club team in Florida; and Janine, a writer, author and magazine editor. “Mema” was Janine’s nickname with all the grandchildren, and Warsaw-Gazga named her nonprofit after her about two years after Janine died in 2010.

Warsaw-Gazga believes she’s truly changing children’s lives through the MeMA-Music program.

“I’ve seen students who rarely participate in classes, due to lack of interest or shyness, light up and immerse themselves in the program,” she said. “By the end of the program, students are more confident and accepting of other cultures.”

Feature Interview With MeMA-Music Founder Jeanne Warsaw-Gazga

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MeMA-Music News Story 8-8-17 August 7, 2017


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