Healing from the ‘Art and Soul’
Foundation launched to support rehabilitation through the arts
Following a debilitating stroke in May 2011, family and friends of poet and artist Neto Meeks, on the weekend, launched a foundation named in his honour to support the rehabilitation of persons suffering severe disability after experiencing trauma.
The new entity, named the Art and Soul Neto Meeks Foundation, was launched during a virtual event hosted by Barbara Blake Hannah, author and pioneering journalist. It showcased poetic performances and endorsements from contemporary poets, family and friends, as well as a brief performance on the keyboard by Neto himself, who has learned to master his left hand since his ordeal a decade ago.
“Suffering a stroke just a little more than 10 years ago, Neto was fully disabled, but through his own art, he has been able to gain mastery of his left hand through his practice on the keyboard and through his martial arts. He is living proof of the healing wonders of art,” explained chairman of the foundation, music educator and folklorist, Michael Sutherland.
“As the science will tell you, music and the arts help to soothe the frustrations that build up during the rehabilitation process; it tunes the mind for therapy and motivates, as well as assists with eliciting and developing movement, so patients can regain their strength and rhythm. While through martial arts, we can assist with regaining strength and balance as well as the senses,” Sutherland explained as he made a case for the foundation’s emphasis on the arts to support rehabilitation.
He underscored that, as a country, Jamaica experiences high numbers of cases of trauma due to violence, high levels of road incidents and a prevalence of lifestyle diseases; and while fatalities normally draw media attention, the survivors and their lifelong injuries often get little focus.
“Our vision is simple and plain, and that is to promote physical rehabilitation through art. It can be done, and I encourage you to join us on this mission,” he urged.
Dr Kadamawe K’nife, social enterprise development specialist, who also spoke at the launch, supported the arts as a tool for rehabilitation, noting that the number one cause of many modern ailments is stress. He said the arts are an avenue to relieve stress and called the foundation’s launch timely and relevant.
“The establishment of this foundation reminds us of the work that needs to be done, and the timeliness is important,” he said, pointing out that special needs have greatly increased.
“We are at an age where it’s the right side of the brain that’s gonna formulate a lot of those solutions … that side of the brain that deals with creativity,” he emphasised.
The Art and Soul Neto Meeks Foundation aims to provide starter-kit art supplies to schools and institutions that care for and house the physically disabled and introduce short courses on the keyboard, as well as yoga and karate sessions. It also intends to motivate persons through talks and performances.
Interim director of the foundation, well-known storyteller and educator, Amina Blackwood-Meeks, Neto’s mother, said the arts, including her son’s knowledge of martial arts before his stroke, have been a key source to his rehabilitation. Music, in particular, she explained, has provided “a total workout for the brain, while, at the same time, reducing anxiety, producing mental alertness and improving memory”.
The rehabilitation has resulted in Meeks’ return to the stage as a performing poet, making appearances at the Calabash Literary Festival and, so far this year, to online events, such as CariCon 2021. “The Art and Soul Neto Meeks Foundation is born of the conviction of the contribution of art and music, together with martial arts practices for restoring physical and emotional well-being,” Blackwood Meeks affirmed.
Father to Neto, Professor Brian Meeks, also endorsed the foundation and hailed his son for his perseverance and consistent optimism.
“Whatever I can do to help, I am here. And I know you will overcome, and I am certain that the foundation will be a success,” he said.