CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
I have had the pleasure of knowing Jamal Callender since we were teenagers coming of age together in New York City. Our friendship grew closer during the 3 intense years we overlapped at The Juilliard School and our bond only strengthened while we lived together in Chicago!
Jamal is my brother, my friend, a beautifully inspired artist, activist, and a FIERCE advocate for equity and justice. Ever since I can remember, Jamal has been very vocal and very proud of his Barbadian heritage. The rich island culture he absorbed during his formative years as a child in Barbados have shaped his view of art and of the world in so many powerful ways. Of the many conversations we have had together over the years, one that has never changed is his commitment to giving back to the communities that nurtured him as a young person.
Jamal has always challenged a linear path in life. He’d often say to me “Why do we have to go to school, join a company, rise in the ranks, become a educator or choreographer, and then start our own school or company once our careers are over? Why can’t we blur the lines and do it all at once? Isn't my voice as an educator most powerful NOW, in the prime of my performance career, close in age to those I'm sharing my knowledge with, than in 20 or 30 years?”
Big questions! But Jamal has always looked at the world and said “why not?” instead of just complaining about “why?”
What remains so inspiring for me about him is that he doesn't stop at the big questions. He challenges the norm, he changes the game. Three years ago Jamal founded the Barbados Dance Project because he identified a NEED. He saw a community, his Bajan community, needed greater access to quality education and he created that access from nothing. Not only that, but he did it while living in New York City. He has worked day and night to make the dream of free quality education for all a reality over and over again!
His vision and more importantly his action have always inspired me, but it wasn't until I went down to Barbados as a faculty member one year ago that I truly understood how powerful what he has created is. The Barbados Dance Project is an absolute necessity. In the eyes of the young participants of the program, I saw the same hunger and passion I had for dance as an aspiring artist in NYC! In their bodies I saw the same, if not more, ability and potential! The ONLY difference between them and me was that I grew up in place where I had access to the kind of FREE education that has allowed me to live a wonderful international life in the arts that I CHOOSE.
I believe that everyone who is talented and motivated deserves the opportunity to have their talent nurtured! But the even more inspiring story here is that we, any of us, at any moment in our life or career, have the capacity to be the change we seek. If you see it, if you believe it, you can make a way and in fact the only way to actualize your dreams is through ACTION. That is what my dear friend Jamal has taught me.
In fact, it was being apart of the Barbados Dance Project that inspired my best friend Chanel DaSilva and I to create MOVE(NYC), a tuition free summer dance program right here in New York City. So you see, his work is not only affecting the lives of the incredibly gifted young people he is teaching, but of everyone around him who is learning about “the fierce urgency of NOW.” He has changed the narrative. He is single handedly breaking down the hierarchical structure of education first, performance career next, giving back later. Maybe its due to his lack of patience or stubbornness… but he wants it all NOW… and he is not afraid of doing the requisite work to make it happen.
Barbados Dance Project is about to enter its third year and unfortunately “free ain’t free.” If you believe in the mission of this project, as I do, please consider doing what you can to not only inspire these deserving young people… but to facilitate the work Jamal has done and will continue to do to inspire us all to do more, be better, and change the world for good!
I am immensely humbled and proud to call Jamal Callender my friend, colleague, and brother. I am in awe of what he has achieved and I can’t wait to see, with ALL of our help, what greatness he continues to birth into our world!
- Nigel Campbell