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Meet Jeanne Warsaw of MeMA-Music in Jefferson Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeanne Warsaw.

Jeanne, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I discovered my passion for Folk, Rock and R&B music in the 70’s during a time when song lyrics were littered with socio-political messages.

Listening to that music always took me on an inner emotional journey through highs, lows and sometimes goosebumps. Music was always my “go to” no matter what mood I was in. In my late 20’s, I had no real direction in my life. I was bartending in Chicago and taking improv classes from Del Close at second city. One day I walked into a Rose Records store on State Street and got into a long conversation about music with the store manager, who ended up offering me a job at the front register.

Eventually, I became the import buyer and then moved on to be one of the two buyers for the Rose Records chain of stores. I spent the next 15 years or so, working in promotion and marketing for RCA, Virgin, Elektra and Sony records in New York, Cleveland, OH and Chicago. I left the music industry around 2000 and worked as a consultant to developing urban artists in the Chicago area.

As both the music industry and music began to change, I started thinking about how important the music from the 60s-70s was in terms of community organizing, fighting for change and peace. I wanted to share this music with teens and get them to understand how the music during the era played a huge role in ending the Vietnam War, passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, as well as, impacting other social movements that opened the door to protests and movements today.

I felt it was also important for our youth to understand the honesty and truth behind the artist/writer in writing these songs; the real reasons were not for the money, but for the impact on societal changes and a better future for the next generation. With my knowledge of music and background working in the music business, I decided to write a curriculum unit, integrating core ELA/social studies standards with music and video clips from the 60s-70s, to teach middle school and high school students about the music behind the social movements and connect the information to current events.

Students would also create their own social justice projects using music, poetry, multimedia, art, etc.. In 2011, I brought the curriculum and idea to Barbara Onofrio at Stone Academy in West Rogers Park, as an Arts residency, and we’re in our 7th year at the school. I named the program after my mother, (who passed away in 2010) who was called Mema by the grandkids. MeMA stands for, Motivate and Encourage Music Appreciation.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I was very lucky with the principal at Stone Academy, trusting my judgement and believing in the program.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about MeMA-Music – what should we know?
MeMA-Music is a 501 c-3 non-profit youth arts education organization working to prepare students to navigate our multicultural world and to pursue the future of their choosing. We provide schools a collaborative global education framework for integrating the Arts, including the National and State Standards—English Language Arts, Social Science, Fine Arts and Technology, with an emphasis in civics learning and social-emotional learning, into middle and high school classrooms as part of the regular school day. Students examine legendary socially conscious music from the sixties and seventies together with video clips connected to the political and social conditions of the era.

MeMA’s pedagogical approach presents questions, in a safe environment, to stimulate students’ dialogue about past and contemporary issues, while respecting students perspectives and values. Our program teaches students to examine the fundamental questions of economic and social inequalities, moral values, civic rights & duties and, the quest for peace.

What sets us apart from other programs is a couple of things. First, my experience in the music industry offers students an inside look at how artists and their music was marketed and promoted, and how much things have changed both technically and socially. I worked with many multi-million dollar artists like Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and more, and it certainly makes for great conversations with students. Second, we bring local Chicago artists into the classes to mentor students. The cool thing that students love, is we include a lot of (age-appropriate) video clips from late night entertainment/political/music shows that kids connect to and it really makes the program more engaging and current.

I’m most proud of the impact our program has on students in terms of speaking up, talking about real-life issues and feeling like what they say matters. The students love working on projects individually and as a team. I’ve received wonderful thank you emails from both students and parents on the positive impact students experience from our program. If we make one student feel better about themselves, and their future, then we’ve succeeded.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Probably my personality in teaching/delivering the curriculum. Also, I spend hundreds of hours searching for current material to bring into the classroom to keep things fresh and engaging.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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