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.
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.