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Young girls posing at the Local-Motions Performance Arts camp | Photos by Nelson Okunlola (The TRiiBE)
This article is a part of the Chicago Fund for Safe & Peaceful Communities, which offers rapid-response grant opportunities to community-based activities that make neighborhoods safer.

“I said a boom-chicka-boom!” a group of seventeen children roared in unison at Sayre Language Academy in Galewood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Their thunderous cries that July afternoon could’ve easily been mistaken for pre-battle war chants. But the exuberant screams were a part of a daily warm-up routine at the Local-Motions Performance Arts summer camp.

“I wanted to create a stable platform for real change,” founder D’Lana O’Neal said about the summer camp, which is now in its 17th year.

On Aug. 11, Local-Motions will host “See My Peace,” an art exhibit where the summer program’s youth will share their visions of peace within their communities. The event – free and open to all ages – will be held at the Rock of Our Salvation Church in Austin from 11 AM to 3 PM.

“The kids have created the backdrop design for the event and posters and signage,” O’Neal said. There also will be a raffle with creative note cards that the kids made as prizes.

“The youth and the seniors are the ones people always seem to forget about,” O’Neal explained. “I wanted this to be something everybody could enjoy.”

O’Neal started Local-Motions in 2001 as a nonprofit offering performance arts instruction to children ages five to 18 in Chicago. This year, Local-Motions received a grant from the Safe & Peaceful Communities Fund. The grant, O’Neal said, will cover the expenses for “See My Peace,” including the refreshments, deejays, a live band and art supplies.

Though most of the nonprofit’s programming is housed inside of its West Side office, located on North Avenue near Ridgeland Avenue, O’Neal chose Sayre Language Academy for the this year’s summer camp because it is a more accessible and central location for the kids to get to.

Each day at the summer camp, the kids prepare for the “See My Peace” showcase. During my visit, the kids began with chants, dances and running exercises to get their creative juices and physical energies flowing.

Next, camp counselors led the children in a range of activities to keep them working towards the exhibit. The kids did some interpretive dancing, where their joyous movements evoked fervent emotions in anyone watching.

They engaged in round-table discussions about virtues, such as integrity and courage.

They also worked on the backdrop designs for “See My Peace,” drawing inspiration from their summer camp field trips to the Garfield Park Conservatory, Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens and Lincoln Park Zoo’s reptile exhibit. The backdrop is a part of a scene for a creative story about bullying that the kids will tell at “See My Peace.”

Another highlight of the camp is a session where the kids read quotes from famous leaders. One young girl read a quote from Malcolm Forbes, former publisher and editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine:

“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”

O’Neal uses this exercise to teach kids how to stand in their truth.

“The goal is to create a foundation for moral standards to develop,” O’Neal said. “They walk around and they have a wealth of knowledge and understanding but, because society has been very instrumental in shutting them down and shutting them out, they very seldom speak their minds and stand in their truth. It’s a great way to build them up.”