PATERSON, NJ- A proud graduate of Rosa L. Parks School of Fine and Performing Arts, Class of 1991, Rahsona Elder is a loving mother of three balancing family, work and service, while helping to deliver high quality arts programming to Paterson children. In fact, it is her work ethic and passion for family that led her to become the founder of InnerFaith Performing Arts Center (IPAC).
Elder’s accomplishments began with her studies and she thanks every school she has attended that have fulfilled her knowledge. Elder reminisces about her high school to the present day.
“I had the opportunity to serve as the Chairwoman of Rosa L. Parks School of Fine & Performing Arts 30th Anniversary Gala last year. It was a surreal and wonderful opportunity. I will forever be grateful to Principal Lyde and the RPHS family for that charge. I am a proud Alumni of RPHS and peer/fan of Principal Lyde,” said Elder.
As a proud alumnus, Elder represents RPHS, as well as the colleges she has attended, wherever she goes, she told TAPinto Paterson, recalling one instance where a professor called her “a very accomplished woman,” and she recognized immediately that her time at RPHS was “a great part of that puzzle.”
“No matter where I give a lecture or speak I am deeply proud to be called alumnus of RPHS just as much as I am of Fairleigh Dickinson and Fordham University. It was my foundation,” she said proudly.
“I was a city kid from Temple Street, northside of Paterson. RPHS taught me to shine.”
There were a number of important women involved in her life who influenced Elder to be the strong, independent, woman she is today. “The most influential person in my life was my maternal grandmother, Lois. She raised me in Paterson with my mom. My grandmother is a woman of great work ethic and class, feisty and very caring. All traits I inherited as a woman.”
While life was never easy for her beloved grandmother, enduring all the racism, discrimination, and segregation of the day, she went on striving for a better life. “She came to the North, met my grandfather, bought a home, started a career, and raised a family,” Elder shared.
Elder admired her grandmother’s strength, so she followed along in her footsteps. “There would be no scholar in me without her influence. She and my mother always made me feel like I can accomplish anything.”
While always keeping a positive attitude, Elder shared that she’s endured struggles in her own life as well. “My late husband passed away unexpectedly in the beginning of my graduate program. I had to overcome a great deal of sorrow and pain personally.”
Elder couldn’t bear to see the pain in her children’s eyes as they hurt for the loss of their father. She had to overcome that obstacle and adjust to the new lifestyle that was thrust upon her and her daughters. “A great deal of overcoming was being strong for my daughters, moving forward in my career, and keeping focus. It’s not an easy task juggling widowhood, community, career, and family.”
A difficult obstacle like that didn’t stop her though from becoming the founder of IPAC.
“I also was at a standstill with my career because he was my confidant/partner.”
The absence of her husband encouraged her to strive for better, benefitting her and the community. “I was 25 years old and I didn’t like my job at that time. I always liked working with children.”
Saying that she believed it was a “calling from God” Elder’s love for children extends to her career in social work with children. “It has always been on my heart and flowed.”
Elder told TAPinto Paterson that it’s her “strong faith in God” and her children that help her “overcome each day.”
She realized there weren’t many art classes in Paterson at the time, something, as part of the second graduating class of Rosa L. Parks School of Fine & Performing Arts High School she found devastating. She would have to either travel on the weekends to New York or out of town in search of the arts.
“One day I just literally started thinking and praying. I started writing on a napkin. I played around with names,” said Elder. “I said ‘well I am very spiritual so I want to empower kids’ inner spirit.’ I believe you can’t do anything in this world without faith. And thus, the Inner Faith Performing Arts Center was born.”
Elder lives by a philosophy also inspired by her faith in God. “What God has for you is for you. You won’t have to lie, beg, force, or chase it. A person can try to stop it but they won’t.”
Marking its 20th anniversary this year Elder continues to have big plans for the children she serves and their families, as well as the communities she serves.
“My goal is to plant a venue where performances, artistic education, creativity and performing arts training, as well as artistic entertainment can be accessible for children and family.”
Elder also hopes to launch a crisis intervention counseling center for children with a goal of providing therapeutic play and art therapy services for children. “The language of children is play.”
These goals, Elder believes, will be accomplished with hard work and support from the community.
“InnerFaith survives off grants, modest tuition stipends, fundraising, and donations. We charge $5 for after school classes so there is no way we can provide quality services, employ a staff of 30 plus people, supplies, and fancy costumes without grants and donations.”
“You will never be able to accomplish a vision like this alone.”
Vanessa Huaita is a is a junior at Rosa Parks High School for Fine and Performing Arts and a member of the TAPinto Paterson internship program.