Indiegogo Perk: Voices: Our Young People Speak

We grieve for Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. We believe dialogue helps improve our society, and is one many things that can help prevent tragedies like this in the future. 

Of all the events Word Up hosted in our 14.5 months in a storefront, the Voices: Our Young People Speak after-school program held particular significance for us because Word Up folks codeveloped it with People’s Theatre Project even before Word Up existed. See previous posts about it here, and on the People’s Theatre Project website. Volunteer Rishauna writes about her experience watching the final performance by the youth actors and writers. The book produced as a result of the program is available as one of many items at our $50 Indiegogo perk level. (There are 9 days left to contribute to the Word Up Indiegogo! Gogo!)

In late March I walked into Word Up Community Bookshop to watch the production Manifesto Supernatural, written and performed by teens in the after-school program Voices: Our Young People Speak, a collaboration between People’s Theatre Project and Seven Stories Institute.  I had no idea how impacting that performance by middle- and high-school–aged kids would be for me, nor the way that experience would later transform the youth with whom I work at my job. Tweens and teens spoke about the issues and beauty they see in their community, their dreams, and their histories. They told us what they feel and how they see things through original poetry, much of it inspired by their reading of Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States. Voices of youth from Washington Heights expressed themselves in first and second languages what it is they want for their future. Dressed in hooded sweatshirts, they reminded everyone about Trayvon Martin and the experience they had in a rally connecting them nationally to a movement against brutality and injustice.

Who were the people behind this visceral production, I wondered? I learned the main facilitator was Paula Gilovich, who had also been a resident playwright with People’s Theatre Project, founded by Mino Lora and Bob Braswell.

Moved to chills and almost tears numerous times throughout the show, I had to talk to Paula afterwards. I introduced myself. I commended her for working on this powerful project and wanted to know how I could get involved. I started to think about how I could bring something like this to the teenagers in the relationship abuse prevention program that I coordinate along with others in nine NYC public schools.  Paula told me about an additional project (Goldmine) she has worked on that brings theater to groups as a tool of exploring homophobia and raising awareness about LGBTQ issues. I realized how well this could work with our summer peer leadership training program that runs for seven weeks each summer with approximately thirty teenagers from our various schools. In that program, we try to engage the youth with as many relevant topics, and to as many people possible who will help them understand even more about what it means to be a fierce and empathetic leader committed to ending relationship violence. We discuss frameworks of oppression such as sexism, racism, and homophobia so that our consciousness can be raised and we all can try and move towards equality with awareness and sensitivity.It seemed perfect to have Paula come challenge and ignite the group with theater to address homophobia. I arranged a workshop with Paula for July 2012, and it was—widely stated by the young leaders—the best workshop the peer leaders had all summer. It’s hard to describe how she ran the workshop, the order in which the activities and information delivery happened, and the fact that in one workshop there could be twenty-eight teenagers on the floor squirming like jellyfish while later sharing and enacting one student’s true story about a gay teen he knew who was murdered.

Paula encouraged the students to share their personal experiences with homophobia in ways I don’t think we coordinators would have been able to elicit. Students brought to the stage LGBTQ experiences they had seen or felt with regards to bullying, violence, humiliation, isolation, and solidarity. Throughout the workshop, Paula discussed what it means to be an ally to someone struggling for human rights. She shared how she fights hard as a white person ally to end racism. At the end of the workshop, when she revealed her sexual orientation and asked of the group, “Who will be my ally?,” every single one of the youth screamed and yelled, I WILL!!

This experience never would have happened for these twenty-eight NYC youth if not for the Voices after-school program that took place at Word Up.

Thanks Paula, PTP, and SSI/Word Up!

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