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McCluer High School students toast to future in teacup art project

A year that began with the trauma of Michael Brown’s death is ending on more positive note, thanks to a traditional tea ceremony this morning at McCluer High School.

Calls of  “To McCluer!” between principal Jane Crawford and the students, and their shared sipping, marked the official ceremony.

It’s the culmination of an art project sponsored by the Craft Alliance arts organization. Since February, 1,500 McCluer students have distilled their hopes and wishes for the future into a few words, small enough to fit on the sides of a two-inch-tall teacup.

Norleen Nosri
Credit Nancy Fowler
Norleen Nosri

The project is called “CommuniTea.” It’s the idea of artist Norleen Nosri, who first tested it in Columbia, Mo.

Nosri and Craft Alliance thought it would be a perfect fit for an annual outreach program, especially in light of recent issues around the globe and at home.

“I’m thinking about what’s going on in the Middle East, what’s going on in Europe, what’s going on in America, here in Ferguson, what’s going on in my own country, Malaysia,” Nosri said.

‘When one teaches, two learn’

Craft Alliance has a long relationship with the trappings of tea, holding biennial teapot exhibitions for the past 12 years. The organization even marked its 50th anniversary in 2014 with a tea-themed celebration.

But that’s just a coincidence, Craft Alliance officials said. The outreach program normally involves a school mural project. But they thought Nosri’s idea would provide more healing in the months that followed the Ferguson unrest.

The project also involves another Florissant-Ferguson District high school, McCluer South Berkley. So that’s a total of 2,500 cups Nosri had to make. A few students created the teacup holders, using math and other problem-solving skills. All the students, and many of the teachers and other staff, thought hard about the words they wanted to engrave into a cup. Students worked to boil down their messages during English class.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Encourage youth”
  • “Love your life”
  • “When one teaches, two learn”
  • “Stop killing, more living”

McCluer High School senior Kenyah Smith knew right away what she wanted to say.

Kenyah Smith
Credit Nancy Fowler
Kenyah Smith

“On my cup, I wrote, ‘We can do it,’ symbolizing women’s rights,” Smith said.

Smith was thinking of the famous Rosie the Riveter picture when she chose her words, a fitting image for what she hopes to do after high school.

“I plan to go into the air force and work on planes, hopefully,” she said.

The tea sets will be on permanent display at the two high schools. Not all the cups at McCluer were finished on time. Some students made their toasts using paper cups. Regardless, Nosri said, their words will help them both now, and later.

“And when they have that opportunity in the future, when they’re the leader, they can pass forward a sense of ‘What can I do, for my community?’” Nosri said.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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