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Community News: Southwest

BALDWIN HILLS : Flights of Fancy and Gritty Reality

October 18, 1992|ERIN J. AUBRY

In an animated voice that cuts through the murmuring and the scraping of chairs against the floor, Mayuto Correa finishes a tale by posing a question to the children seated in a semicircle in front of him.

"So do we stop and talk to somebody who offers us something?" he asks, his eyes probing their young faces. "I mean, maybe they only want to give us a little something that doesn't look bad, right?"

The group's answer: a resounding "No-o-o-o!"

"Somebody could poison us," says one young boy when Correa asks why caution is always best.

Satisfied, Correa beams.

"OK, now it's time for music," he says, gesturing toward a box crammed full of Brazilian and African percussion instruments. "Today, imagine we are an orchestra about to rehearse."

And after half an hour of concerted efforts, the children perform, their shakers and drums marking out lively rhythms that have the few waiting parents tapping their toes.

Juxtaposing flights of fancy with jarring urban realities are routine for the Saturday workshops, begun last month by storyteller and performer Marilyn McConnie.

Conceived as an outlet for pent-up emotions McConnie says children may harbor in the aftermath of the riots, the three-hour Saturday sessions at Jim Gilliam Recreation Center, 4000 S. La Brea Ave., aim to foster literacy, self-confidence and creativity among African-American children in South and Central Los Angeles.

"Literacy was my biggest concern," said McConnie, a native of Trinidad. "But I also wanted to create a forum for kids to express themselves, to give them discipline and instill pride in who they are."

The open-enrollment workshop, which continues through Nov. 21, is sponsored by the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund, an effort coordinated by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department in response to artists who wanted to contribute to the healing of the city.

"Growing up in Trinidad, storytelling was an integral part of my life," McConnie said. "In college I ran a baby-sitting service, which pretty much demanded me to tell stories all the time."

At 2 p.m., McConnie usually starts the workshop, which has 25 children--mostly South-Central Los Angeles 5- to 11-year-olds. Her African-inspired stories are followed by writing, dance, music and art exercises that relate to a theme McConnie sets. On a recent Saturday she told the "Green Stone" tale, in which a boy diligently searches for his lost capacity to share.

"We had a celebration dance after the story, after the kids learned about the importance of sharing," McConnie said. "I like to use fantasy elements to frame issues that kids can relate to and incorporate themselves."

To round out the effort, McConnie recruited Brazilian percussionist Correa, dance instructor Andrea Calomee and painter Ralph Steele.

Kenneth Dean, 11, said he likes the music best "because (I) get to use my hands."

Kenneth said that he also enjoyed the ballet exercises the group did after a story McConnie told of an aspiring black ballerina. "I really didn't think I'd like that," he said. "But when everybody started doing it together, I got into it."

Information: (310) 859-5831.

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