Sounds of Change

by Leigh Powell April 13, 2010

Through Jazz for Justice, UT students take volunteerism to the next level

There’s volunteering for a cause, and then there’s making that cause a way of life.

Dustyn Winder, a UT senior majoring in global studies, has embraced Jazz for Justice as a way of life.

Winder soon will embark on his fourth trip to Uganda in the past two and a half years. This trip will allow him to work on a project he’s calling “CreatED,” an educational pilot that will bring poetry and storytelling—vital parts of traditional Ugandan culture—back into the lives of students in Gulu, Uganda, in the aftermath of civil war.

Winder first heard about the civil war in northern Uganda in 2006—about 20 years into the conflict.

“It was a huge deal, and I’d never heard of it,” Winder said. “That really struck me.”

Among the goals of UT’s Jazz for Justice project are raising awareness of the northern Ugandan conflict and helping rebuild the lives of women and youth in the region. But the project also seeks to create local ties and action.

“We live in a global society,” said Rosalind Hackett, professor of religious studies and founder of Jazz for Justice. “Local concerns are affected by global trends. Civic engagement has to include international concerns.”

Hackett began Jazz for Justice in 2006 in response to student interest in northern Uganda. It began as a benefit concert—local jazz musicians performing, and donations going toward relief efforts. But it’s grown into much more.

“It grew because of student input, student leadership,” Hackett said.

Hackett describes Jazz for Justice as a “priceless, unique experience” that has changed her own life and the lives of students involved—in addition to the lives of some Northern Ugandans.

“Most students come to the program in ignorance,” Winder said, “but with a desire to know more. I think it’s a testament to our age group’s activism, and there’s definitely a place for that and a way to capitalize on it.”

Hackett has tried to capitalize on it by letting students truly take the reins of Jazz for Justice, which has grown, as she describes it, “organically.” She said she views her role in the program to be “sustaining the logic so it doesn’t implode,” but she believes students should direct it toward their own interests and passions.

“Like jazz itself, [Jazz for Justice] doesn’t have to have a single tune; there can be different arrangements,” she said.

In many ways, jazz music is the perfect expression of Jazz for Justice, and a nice metaphor to explain the project: “The spirit of jazz is about inclusiveness, improvisation,” Hackett said. “And of course there are the African roots of jazz.”

Another primary goal of Jazz for Justice is to explore the ways in which music and art can be used for peace building and post-conflict reconstruction, as seen in Winder’s CreatED project.

Using music to make the world a better place?

Sounds good to me.

To learn more about the Jazz for Justice project, including Knoxville concerts and ongoing and upcoming work in Northern Uganda, visit www.knoxjazzforjustice.org.

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