Special Note: Atlantis recently welcomed renowned storyteller, actor and musician Kemp Harris to campus to speak to 11th and 12th graders in our Career Academies. As part of our ongoing effort to expose our students to different careers during their time at Atlantis, we asked three of our aspiring journalists to put on their reporter hats and cover this special assembly for this month’s Spotlight column.
by Corrin Crowley, Dylan Audette, and Rileigh Lemaire
Kemp Harris is the kind of artist who cannot be described by just one trait. He was a kindergarten teacher for 38 years, and even though he’s retired now, he still returns to the classroom on a regular basis as a substitute teacher. He is a songwriter who uses all original songs in his band performances and puts parts of himself and the world around us into his music. He is a theater man who can get into character and switch back out of it at the drop of a hat. His passion exceeds the challenges that he faced throughout his lifetime. He says that being a black, gay man from the South had its demons, but not once did Harris seem upset when speaking about the difficulties he experienced growing up. In fact, he embraced them and showed how they shaped him today, even going as far as to sing a song about the racism he viewed over the years.
Harris told us about his personal journey to find himself in life. He didn’t find who he truly was when he was younger. He says many people believe they must figure out who they are as a teenager before they become an adult, but that is not the case. A person can take as much time as he or she needs as long as they learn to love themselves first. He told the students that he truly loves himself and doesn’t care what other thinks about him due to the simple fact that he is living his life for himself not for others. There was a collective sigh of relief from the audience as he explained that not everyone has to fit in with what’s around them. Harris mainly performs for younger kids, but the message he brought to Atlantis inspired the high school crowd and encouraged the students to embrace their insecurities.
His most extraordinary performance was the story of Harmonica Boy. It was a true story about someone he knows who found his path by following what he loves and passing it down to the next generation. Along with his message of self-confidence that spoke so well to his adolescent audience, this story really resonated with the teenagers in the room who have their own hopes and dreams for the future.
His visit inspired students, especially those in the Teacher Development Academy and the Arts, Design and Culture Academy. The teens in those academies connected with Harris. He shared with them some of the struggles they may face as teachers and artists, but also the importance of incorporating passion into everything you do. This was his key message, and for his young audience, it was one that we can use for the rest of our lives.