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Ted Weissberg
Founder of Row Cypher Inc. “Redefining Our World Cypher”

Roosevelt University  criminal justice student and spoken word artist, Ted Weissberg, is using performance arts as a way to “bring people together peacefully from different backgrounds” with Row Cypher Inc., an organization he founded in 2011.

Row Cypher, which stands for “Redefining Our World Cypher” hosts open mics, plays, concerts and offers services to schools and youth centers in Chicago.

Weissberg talks with Chicago Rises about how Row Cypher started out as a dorm room open mic on the campus of Roosevelt University, and grew into a performing arts organization.

Weissberg also talks about the role his organization is playing in Chicago Public Schools in helping youth reconcile their differences through artistic expression.

 What events inspired you to transition Row Cypher from an open mic event into a performing arts organization?

It just was a series of opportunities that we got from different people around the city and people asking us to come out and perform. So it was really just accidental.

The first thing that happened is that I had to co head  at the time when we where just an open mic in a dorm for me to make friends who said ‘Well we can sell shirts,buttons and stickers.’And I said, ‘You’re crazy, no ones gonna buy that!’ And he says ‘Give me the money and I’ll flip.’I gave him the money and he comes back to me after one event and he says,’We sold out of all ten shirts.’At that point a little light went on in my head and I thought there might be more than just an open mic.

Why do you feel there is a need for an organization that brings people together from various backgrounds and different  communities here in Chicago?

Through the media you can see and through research it says we are the most segregated cities. I believe as a person you can learn from anyone no matter their background.

Through spoken word we are able to put aside our differences and really come together. It`s also a form of expression and we’ve created a safe area for people to put down their defenses.

Also, if we wanna solve issues that we are facing in society today, it’s not going to be solved by one group or one party. It’s going to be solved by many different organizations, parties, and groups coming together.

This platform allows someone  who grew up in Cabrini -Green and someone who grew up in a suburb to come together and say, ‘Hey, we can work together; we see common ground on this.’

How does this organization integrate Row Cyphers’ mission through the Chicago public education system?

How we’ve done this in Chicago is focusing on 4th through 8th grade.By teaching them the art form of spoken word poetry. It helps build skills within social and emotional learning. It helps with public speaking, performance, community identity and confidence. These are things that are needed at a middle school level.

Right now we’re partnering with the Good Life Organization which does Hip Hop curriculum education at nationwide level and they have us in 3 high schools. Pritzker Elementary School was the first school we entered that had a group of girls that really didn’t get along. Me and my staff constantly had to sit in between them  and say ‘You go over there and you go over there.’ But through this art form though they are now best friends, they’re now cordial to each other. Through hearing each others poetry they were able to say, ‘I can relate to something that Sarah said.’

Even if it’s not a racial or geographical barrier, there’s still are barriers within the schools.