Pages From My Skin

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Reaching The Youth

Today, I had the pleasure of performing my play "Penumbra" at the Allen Residential Center as well as the Youth Leadership Academy in South Kortright, NY. These are prison facilities for juvenile delinquents that have been "adjucated" of a crime rather than "convicted"...meaning that they are not given full adult sentences. So, when asked if they have been convicted of a crime, one can legally say no as they have not lawfully "committed" a crime. During their stay, they are housed, fed and educated but nonetheless regimented. These facilities are on the same grounds, just separated from one another, hosting mostly 14-17 year old males who roughly 60% are African American and 35% Latino.  90% of whom are from New York City.

Something inside of me changed today as these individuals have inspired me beyond boundaries. I originally visited them a few weeks ago as part of the "Where There's Smoke, There's Fire" Tour with Bamboo MC, Jimmytheloch, Sierra DeMulder and others of the Intangible Spoken Word Collective. The residents in attendance that day specifically requested that I come back as they were interested in seeing my play. In fact, one resident wrote us all a hand written letter that broke my heart down to its elements. You can tell that he spent a long time trying to write as neat as he possibly could. There were misspellings here and there which made the letter that much more real. So, with that in mind...I knew I had to return.

As of last night, I suddenly got sick as I will be moving back to the Bronx this weekend and had to shut off the heat in my apartment. Even though the weather has been fair, my apartment still gets cold at the point where I've been rocking sweaters to keep warm under 2 blankets and a quilt. So, unfortunately; while rehearsing for today's performance; I was overwhelmed with an immense headache, stuffy nose and cough. Had I not cared for the performance, I would have certainly canceled it without hesitation. But as I have been lied to in my life and promised many things without fulfillment, I knew it was important for me to show up regardless of my personal circumstance.

It was the first time I had ever performed my play TWICE in one day. That's 2 and a half hours of raw emotion. My first performance was with the Youth Leadership Academy at 9am. This group is given a strict schedule of activities to follow, authoritative commands to march to and essentially attend a boot camp. I was told this would be the harder audience to reach. With barely 4 hours of sleep and an overwhelming feeling of utter sickness, I gave them everything I had. This is without dancers, singers, musicians, props, stage lighting or scene transitioning. It was pretty much me with a speaker and remote control in hand. It brought my play down to its knees and made me overcome new challenges I had never faced before. Considering the heavy and abstract content of my work, I know a lot of what I said went over their heads. However, they really seemed to connect with what I was saying. One resident in particular really engaged my every word during my poem "Blue" because it turned out his sister had been raped and he himself was in the process of dealing with this difficult situation. One of the faculty counselors told me this and said, "If nothing else, you did for one kid in one day what we couldn't do with months of therapy." (...How do you respond to that?)

After my first performance, I ate lunch with the Facility Director (Nick da Scholar's Dad) and we spoke about some really deep stuff concerning seeking self enlightenment in life which ultimately provided me with some tough food for thought to digest. (In addition to the grilled chicken and pasta I ordered-"Muah...magnifico!") 

Upon walking into the new location, I could see the residents peeking through their window to catch a glimpse. The feeling was indescribable. This was the same group that saw me perform weeks before and had spoken so much about me to everyone in the facility that even their teachers were excited to see me. Witnessing the enthusiasm in each of their eyes made me remember why I do what I do. I let everyone know in advance that I wanted them to listen to my play as though it were an opera. I told them that I did not expect them to get everything because more importantly, I wanted them to embrace the emotions and leave with whatever I managed to make them feel. By the end of my performance, they were in awe and after opening the floor for discussion, they asked a lot of detailed questions. They wanted to know more about the people in the play, why I wrote it, how long it took to complete.......but more rewardingly, they began asking questions about my college career and asking about how they can get into a similar program for music.  

After I was done packing everything up, many of them wanted me to visit their cells to have a few words with them.  Each of them wanted to show me poems and songs they had written since my first visit. Now........I've done a lot of shows where cats have come up to me, given me dap and been like "Yo, that was a tight performance." And yeah, I suppose in the scheme of things that's all cool. On the flipside, I had these young individuals, some of who were dealing with some of life's greatest struggles, telling me that I inspired them to do something positive. To write. To read. To think. They told me that they saw in me aspects of what they wanted to be. That they were able to relate to things I said and that my words had touched their hearts in ways that had never been reached before. I don't care how big you get in this industry or how much money you make in this game but nothing....I mean NOTHING is more rewarding than what I felt today. Reminds me of why I must always remain humble, true to my heart and faithful to my dreams.


What's greater than God?
Worst than the devil?
Poor people have it...
Rich people need it...
And if you eat it, you'll die?

The answer is: Nothing
Nothing is greater than God
Nothing is worst than the devil
Poor people have nothing...
Rich people need nothing...
And if you eat nothing, you'll die

(As told to me by Nick da Scholar's Dad at lunch)


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