S. African singer teaches students life lessons

May 15, 2009 Friday, one of the group's members visited hundreds of Chicago public school students.

That unique appearance introduced students to South Africa's struggle against apartheid through one former political prisoner's life lessons.

Students at Sullivan High School on the North Side celebrated the visit of Robben Island Singers musical director Grant Shezi. With a variety of artistic performances, they showed through music, dance and poetry how people have struggled and how they can come together through the arts.

Shezi talked about how he was incarcerated for 10 years on Robben Island and how he used music and forgiveness to get through his ordeal and move forward.

Following the assembly, Shezi visited students in the classroom and heard their stories of violence in their communities and what they need to do in dealing with the violence that surrounds them.

"They must find a way of bringing their opponents closer to see that there is something common," Shezi said.

"I got that violence is not the best answer to solve everything. We must forget and forgive one another," said Sullivan student Omone Usnanaliu.

"It is a shame that violence is going on, especially with teenagers," said Linda Offei, also a student.

"If you have forgiveness, that would cut down on a lot of potential violence," Sullivan Principal Joseph Atria said.

Students learned that struggle and violence are universal issues facing us all. For them, the Robben Island singer was a courageous activist who stood up for what he believed in.

"They see that and they want to emulate it," said Jennifer Amdur Spitz of Groundswell Educational Films.

"The message of nonviolence is what we need with everything that is going on in our system," said Chicago public schools Sheffeia Wright.

"It's like we still don't accept that we've come along way, and we're fighting and dying over stupid stuff," said James Ford, a Sullivan student.

The Robben Island singers are more than just ordinary soldiers in the struggle in South Africa, teaching American students to think critically about what they have learned, to communicate their ideas across cultures using visual performing, and that they have the power to organize and mobilize their communities towards a better future.

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