Transcending Elements Seeks to Deliver the Arts to All Kids
As the weekend approached, Pamela Ford and friends were busy preparing for a significant milestone in her Riverview-based nonprofit’s history. Thanks to a generous $2,000 donation from Home Depot, the group had the means to construct an event stage for performers. The founder and executive director of Transcending Elements put the finishing touches on arrangements. The Sun, Fun and Music Festival, which debuted Saturday, July 14, in the City of Tampa’s Perry Harvey Sr. Park, will continue to serve as the group’s primary fundraiser every year.
The choice of venue is no accident. Perry Harvey Sr. Park is situated in what was once dubbed The Scrub, Tampa’s oldest and largest African-American community and part of the once thriving Central Avenue Business District. It also served as home of a burgeoning music scene for African-American musicians and singers during an era in the South where safety and acceptance were two highly sought-after venue characteristics for a performer. Now, the park showcases the work of four artists through unique sculptures which highlight contributions of early members of the local African American community who helped grow the district. The park also features a variety of recreational amenities encouraging activity and movement, including an interactive fountain for water play, basketball courts and a skate park.
Ford says she appreciated having Tampa’s parks and recreation department and City Council’s support from the beginning when the group first approached them about holding the event. “They liked the vision and want to show Tampa as the diverse community that it is,” she says. And what better setting than this symbolic city park for an event coordinated by a group focused on delivering opportunities to underserved youth to express themselves through music and dance?
“We see so much negativity that children are experiencing, and we wanted to find a way to give them hope and encouragement,” says Ford, whose travels led her to the Tampa area by way of Georgia and NYC. Raised by her grandparents and spending much of her childhood moving from place to place as a self-termed ‘military brat,’ Ford joined a local church once she settled into the Tampa area and became its administrator. Through the church, she got involved with Angel Tree, a program offered through prison ministries during which churches, individuals and other groups make an annual commitment to purchase gifts for the children of parents who are currently incarcerated and to deliver them in the parents’ name in an effort to help keep families connected. Though she is no longer with the same church, it was during this time that the early seedlings for her future nonprofit were planted.
Ford and other friends and neighbors, some of whom are now members of her nonprofit’s board, found a common bond: all of them loved children and especially doing things to benefit them. Some of them had been involved as PAL coaches and basketball mentors. Others like her group’s secretary had been specially trained to work with children, in her case, as a special needs teacher within the Hillsborough County Public Schools system. As the group began continuing to do annual campaigns to help not only the children of incarcerated parents but other local youth in need for the Angel Tree program and hosted community Easter egg hunts, something clicked. “These events only happened once a year, and we were having as much fun, maybe more, than the kids do. We thought what if we do this all the time and help them? At our Easter egg hunt, we saw how much the kids enjoyed dancing and music and thought, suppose we did something to incorporate that,” Ford says.
Transcending Elements officially launched in 2016. Since then, it has worked in partnership with a variety of organizations in the Bay area including the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County which has proven to be a strong supporter of the group’s arts program vision as well as its annual Christmas fundraisers. It was during one of the Board’s leadership classes for nonprofits that Ford says led her to more fully articulate the nonprofit’s overall goal and principles. “Music, dance and theater – the performing arts – are one way to capture youths’ attention and then while we have their attention, we can hopefully instill some important things, like peer pressure and how to say no, to non-religious moral values such as take care of yourself, get fit, don’t do drugs,” Ford says. “While writing a grant, I learned through research set forth through the No Child Left Behind Act that the performing arts can help children academically a great deal, that kids who take a performing art regularly, showed improvements in their test scores, in school participation and in their social skills. People who dance and play music have an uncanny ability to see space and time which made students’ math scores shoot through the roof. I thought wow, they’re having fun and gaining these