Students learn personal development, cultural awareness through art from Duquesne Univ. students

AMIR RASHID, left, teaches 10-year-old Braiyben Tomison how to play the drums. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Art should not be taken lightly. So says Isaac Clerfe of Churchill. He’s 10.
“It’s a life skill, and you might need it sometime in the future,” he told the New Pittsburgh Courier, Feb. 26. “It’s really important in case you want a job, it could be a resume skill or specialization. It could also be a full-time career, being an artist—that could work.”
Clerfe was one of 15 fourth- and fifth-graders, mostly from the Hill District, wrapping up a 12-week program call CHAAT, Children’s Art and Talk groups at the Center that CARES in the Hill.
Organized by Dr. Jessie Goicoechea, assistant professor and director of Duquesne’s Psychology Clinic and funded through a grant from McAuley Ministries, CHAAT provides culturally-informed, art-based workshops designed to enhance children’s personal development, pride and a sense of community by drawing on traditions of African and African American mask-making, quilt-making and more.
Though 11-year-old T’kyia Campbell, from the Hill, doesn’t seem to suffer from a lack of pride, she said the program is great.
“I like art, I’m a super-cool drawer artistic person,” she said. “To me art is important because you never know, you might be good at it and have a career.”
NAVIER BAKER, 10, working on his own Djembe drum. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

During the final session, the children made and decorated small versions of African djembe drums and aboriginal Australian horns called didgeridoos under the direction of local artist Amir Rasheed. In earlier sessions, working with artist Donna Reed Williams, the children made traditional African masks, collages shaped like the African continent, and colorful cloth pieces that were assembled into a “community quilt.” Their work is now on display at Duquesne’s Gumberg Library.
Dr. Goicoechea said although she and some of her graduate students oversee the program, it is not a clinical study.
“These are not therapy groups. I’d call them wellness groups, ways to interface with after-school programming,” she said. “I think that the way the art allows the youth to connect with their heritage and with each other are uniquely valuable. I think we have seen an increase in pride and confidence in themselves.”
Dr. Goicoechea said the program has evolved since Terri Baltimore reached out to her about creating an African-centered after-school program at the Hill House many years ago. For the last four years, CHAAT has been housed at the Center that CARES.
“The main thing that has been brought to sharper focus is the use of African and African American art traditions as a mechanism for development and peer relations,” she said. “Before it was more psychoeducational activities. We also work with local African American artists–so there’s a community building partnership as well.”
She added that there is more to the program than just play.
“While the enjoyment is worth something in itself, these activities are also informative, challenging; they learn patience, and frustration tolerance, and the value of overcoming obstacles.”
Doctoral student Eric Guzman, said he’s glad to be part of the program because he is passionate about working in the African American community, working with children, and also enjoy doing art. So he’s able to combine all three and do something that benefits the kids and the community.
“Art connects these kids to their heritage in a way that they may not necessarily be able to encounter in their daily lives,” he said. “And they love it. It really showed when we presented all their stuff at the library for the exhibition. Seeing their art on display made them feel they had something to be really proud of.”
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