After the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, local performer Marty Casey laid on the ground in protest during the resulting unrest. She saw many children participating and the first thing she thought was how the mental health of those children would be affected.

“Someone needs to take these other children off the streets and keep them busy,” Casey says.

Casey resurrected a 10-year-old idea to open her own arts academy for youth in St. Louis. The result, the Show Me Arts Academy (SMAA), has welcomed youth from the ages of 10-19 to perform their hearts out. They will take what they learned and seek to put a smile on others’ faces through their SPREADING THE LOVE Youth Tour 2016.

They will kick off the tour in St. Louis before moving on to cities such as Washington, D.C., Edison, New York City and Alton, Illinois. The group consists of performers from across the St. Louis area, from Maplewood to Ferguson. They will be joined by parents, chaperones and a videographer who will document the tour.

The group will perform July 2 as the finale performance of the Fair St. Louis parade. The official kick-off performance for the tour will be at the Missouri History Museum on July 6 at 6 p.m. They will depart St. Louis on July 10. The tour will begin in Washington D.C., where the group will tour the Capitol and meet with elected representatives. They will perform at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, where they will also assist with a school supply drive and participate in a youth summit.

The tour will then move to Edison, New Jersey on July 14th where they will perform at The Wardlaw-Hartridge School. Afterwards, the tour hits New York City where the group will visit Manhattan, Brooklyn, Harlem, the Bronx and will even sing on the Brooklyn Bridge. Their final performance of the tour will be in Alton, Illinois on July 30 with a performance at the Jacoby Arts Center.

In addition to performing, the performers will take part in service learning projects such as participating in a school supply drive, volunteering at a children’s hospital and, with veterans, will provide opportunities to learn through engagement with new cultures.

The idea for the tour started with a documentary called “When Voices Meet,” which was made in South Africa about a children’s choir called the Peace Train that was formed after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and traveled and touched the lives of a divided nation through music, despite facing dangerous circumstances.

Casey had met up with Sharon Katz, founder of the Peace Train who wished to bring the choir here to perform with the academy. Unfortunately, it never became reality. However, Casey wanted to continue it on their own. The result became the SPREADING THE LOVE Tour. Casey believes love is what the world needs right now, especially coming off of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse Nightclub that left 49 dead and another 53 injured.

“If there’s anything we need right now, we need love,” Casey explains. “It’s one thing to be peaceful. We need peace also, so the Peace Train has its place. . . If you could simply love the next person, peace will come, joy will come, unity will come and all of those other things will follow.”

Eighteen-year-old Jalissa Bost has been working to spread love in high school through work as with her organization where, during the Ferguson unrest, they held sit-ins about the unrest, home and school life.

“I’ve never been bullied myself, but I’ve had a strong dislike for bullies,” Bost says. “I’m always trying to spread the love and make sure everyone is calm and collected.”

Bost was involved in choirs, talent shows and theatre before joining SMAA. Ten-year-old Tayari Chambers plays seven instruments. Eighteen-year-old Caleb Johnson performs in show and concert choir and does vocal training at Webster University. Ten-year-old Ryan Harper performs in her church choir and has participated in an orchestra.

Chambers is excited to travel to places he has not gone before. He is especially excited to perform at Central Park. The fact that he is participating in a group for an almost-month long tour is something he says is “mindblowing.”

“I got really excited because I really want to go to Central Park,” Chambers says.

Chambers says joining the group has helped boost his confidence. He remembers how he would be scared to sing solos in church. Now, he is featured on a performance of “Happy” by Pharrell.

“Ms. Marty’s been telling me ‘you should just try it,’” he says. “I’ve been starting to sing in that church.”

Johnson joined the group after finding out about it through Facebook. Johnson says this tour is an opportunity for the group’s voices to be heard. He says that, he too, would feel nervous before a performance. However, he is always picked up by people who support him.

“It helps me grow and makes me want to help out more,” Johnson says.

Harper says with the tour, she hopes to show different cities, as she says, “what St. Louis is all about.” With the tour and with the group, she now feels more excited and confident about things.

When Casey looks upon the performers giving it their all in rehearsals and in shows, she feels grateful that she listened to the voice inside who told her to go through with her plans for SMAA.

“I feel like I was obedient,” Casey says.

Casey says people who come to the performances will walk in feeling one way and walk out feeling another. She wants to show that, even though the group is not originally from places like Washington D.C. or New York City, this is a chance for them to show that they wish to spread love to different communities.

“If they come empty, we’re gonna make sure they leave full,” Casey says.

For more information about SMAA and the SPREADING THE LOVE Tour, visit V

by Bill Loellke