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TEDGlobal 2017

Marc Bamuthi Joseph: What soccer can teach us about freedom

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"Soccer is the only thing on this planet that we can all agree to do together," says theater maker and TED Fellow Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Through his performances and an engagement initiative called "Moving and Passing," Joseph combines music, dance and soccer to reveal accessible, joyful connections between the arts and sports. Learn more about how he's using the beautiful game to foster community and highlight issues facing immigrants.

- Arts activist, spoken word artist
TED Fellow Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a curator of words, ideas and protagonists. His bold, poetically-driven work investigates social issues and cultural identity. Full bio

The two places
00:12
where I feel most free
00:16
aren't actually places.
00:20
They're moments.
00:22
The first is inside of dance.
00:25
Somewhere between
rising up against gravity
00:29
and the feeling that the air beneath me
00:32
is falling in love with my body's weight.
00:36
I'm dancing and the air is carrying me
00:39
like I might never come down.
00:43
The second place that I feel free
00:46
is after scoring a goal
on the soccer pitch.
00:48
My body floods with the chemical
00:51
that they put inside of EpiPens
to revive the dead,
00:54
and I am weightless,
00:57
raceless.
01:01
My story is this: I'm a curator
at a contemporary arts center,
01:04
but I don't really believe in art
that doesn't bleed or sweat or cry.
01:08
I imagine that my kids
are going to live in a time
01:16
when the most valuable commodities
are fresh water and empathy.
01:18
I love pretty dances
and majestic sculpture
01:23
as much as the next guy,
01:26
but give me something else to go with it.
01:27
Lift me up with the aesthetic sublime
01:30
and give me a practice or some tools
to turn that inspiration
01:33
into understanding and action.
01:37
For instance, I'm a theater maker
who loves sports.
01:41
When I was making
my latest piece /peh-LO-tah/
01:46
I thought a lot about how soccer
was a means for my own immigrant family
01:48
to foster a sense of continuity
and normality and community
01:53
within the new context of the US.
01:57
In this heightened moment of xenophobia
and assault on immigrant identity,
02:01
I wanted to think through
02:06
how the game could serve
as an affirmational tool
02:07
for first-generation Americans
and immigrant kids,
02:12
to ask them to consider
movement patterns on the field
02:15
as kin to migratory patterns
across social and political borders.
02:18
Whether footballers or not,
02:24
immigrants in the US
play on endangered ground.
02:26
I wanted to help the kids understand
02:30
that the same muscle
that they use to plan the next goal
02:32
can also be used
to navigate the next block.
02:36
For me, freedom exists in the body.
02:41
We talk about it abstractly
and even divisively,
02:45
like "protect our freedom,"
"build this wall,"
02:48
"they hate us because of our freedom."
02:51
We have all these systems
that are beautifully designed
02:54
to incarcerate us or deport us,
02:57
but how do we design freedom?
03:00
For these kids, I wanted to track the idea
back to something that exists inside
03:04
that no one could take away,
03:08
so I developed this curriculum
03:10
that's part poli-sci class,
part soccer tournament,
03:12
inside of an arts festival.
03:17
It accesses /peh-LO-tah/'s
field of inquiry
03:20
to create a sports-based
political action for young people.
03:23
The project is called
"Moving and Passing."
03:27
It intersects curriculum development,
site-specific performance
03:30
and the politics of joy,
03:34
while using soccer as a metaphor
for the urgent question
03:36
of enfranchisement among immigrant youth.
03:40
Imagine that you are
a 15-year-old kid from Honduras
03:44
now living in Harlem,
03:47
or you're a 13-year-old girl born in DC
to two Nigerian immigrants.
03:49
You love the game.
03:54
You're on the field with your folks.
03:56
You've just been practicing
dribbling through cones
03:57
for, like, 15 minutes,
04:00
and then, all of a sudden,
a marching band comes down the field.
04:01
I want to associate the joy of the game
with the exuberance of culture,
04:06
to locate the site of joy in the game
04:11
at the same physical coordinate
04:15
as being politically informed by art,
04:18
a grass-laden theater for liberation.
04:22
We spend a week
04:25
looking at how the midfielder
would explain Black Lives Matter,
04:27
or how the goalkeeper
would explain gun control,
04:30
or how a defender's style
is the perfect metaphor
04:33
for the limits of American exceptionalism.
04:38
As we study positions on the field,
04:40
we also name and imagine our own freedoms.
04:42
I don't know, man, soccer is, like,
04:48
the only thing on this planet
that we can all agree to do together.
04:50
You know? It's like the official sport
of this spinning ball.
04:55
I want to be able
to connect the joy of the game
05:00
to the ever-moving footballer,
05:05
to connect that moving footballer
05:08
to immigrants who also moved
in sight of a better position.
05:10
Among these kids, I want
to connect their families' histories
05:15
to the bliss of a goal-scorer's run,
05:19
family like that feeling
after the ball beats the goalie,
05:22
the closest thing going to freedom.
05:26
Thank you.
05:30
(Applause)
05:31

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About the speaker:

Marc Bamuthi Joseph - Arts activist, spoken word artist
TED Fellow Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a curator of words, ideas and protagonists. His bold, poetically-driven work investigates social issues and cultural identity.

Why you should listen

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a steadfast believer in empathy as the most valuable currency in building community, and he seeks to spark curiosity and dialogue about freedom, compassion and fearlessness through pioneering arts stewardship and education. A 2017 TEDGlobal Fellow, Bamuthi graced the cover of Smithsonian Magazine as one of America's Top Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences; artistically directed HBO's "Russell Simmons presents Brave New Voices"; and is an inaugural recipient of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship, which annually recognizes 50 of the country’s greatest living artists. Dance Magazine named him a Top Influencer in 2017.

Bamuthi's evening-length work, red black and GREEN: a blues, was nominated for a 2013 Bessie Award for "Outstanding Production (of a work stretching the boundaries of a traditional form)" and he has won numerous grants including from the National Endowment for the Arts and Creative Capital Foundation. His noted work /peh-LO-tah/ is inspired by soccer and Bamuthi's first generation American experience, intersecting global economics, cross-border fan culture and the politics of joy.

Bamuthi is the founding Program Director of the non-profit Youth Speaks, and he is a co-founder of Life is Living, a national series of one-day festivals which activate under-resourced parks and affirm peaceful urban life. His essays have been published in Harvard Education Press; he has lectured at more than 200 colleges, has carried adjunct professorships at Stanford and Lehigh, among others, and currently serves as Chief of Program and Pedagogy at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

More profile about the speaker
Marc Bamuthi Joseph | Speaker | TED.com