By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
I’m the flaky friend because you think I never want to hang out
But I’m not flaky, just poor
Dyslexia shouldn’t affect my GPA
And I don’t know if anyone has noticed but African-Americans
Aren’t treated for that either
When we teach my people to become aware
Kids like me will get somewhere
Growing up there was always a way to scrape together dinner
From Ramen noodles, bacon and cheese
Whatever was in the fridge
This is racism and poverty as seen through the eyes of our youth. These are real stories. These are real people.
A dozen young adults, all of them between 16 and 24 years old, shared “Journey With Me” Wednesday morning, April 13, 2016 before an audience filled with education influencers, members of philanthropic foundations, civic-minded individuals and passionate crusaders with educational non-profit organizations.
The 2016 State of Texas and Dallas Children: Breakfast Briefing and Community Workshop, a joint event from The Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Communities Foundation of Texas and Dallas Faces Race, took place at the Communities Foundation of Texas headquarters. The purpose of the daylong forum was threefold – learn the latest data on Dallas kids, use that data in your work, as well as talk about the racial and ethnic disparities in the data; discuss opportunities for kids to compete and succeed in life regardless of income, gender, race or ethnicity; and develop, advance local and state policy solutions.
“Journey With Me” was undoubtedly the moving highlight of the breakfast portion, which also included an address by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Directed by Ruben Carrazana, “Journey With Me” encompassed spoken word, poetry, rapping and an original song, “Who,” written by Evan Borne.
The performers stemmed from three groups of young artists – Creative Solutions Alumni, SMU Meadows School of the Arts students, and Dallas Youth Poets. Carrazana, Borne and Brandon Wright are freelance artists. The talented and bravely forthright storytellers were: Frankie Zuniga, Christina Sittser, Ladarris Fannin, Faith McElroy, Mikaela Brooks, Gabrielle Edwards, Carson Wright, Curtis Faulkner, Jonathan Tyler, Lilie Zuniga and DeJahn Carr.
Once they entered the banquet room they immediately dispersed, each storyteller standing before a table of guests. On cue they began to tell their personal stories of racism, poverty, and in some cases, privilege. This wasn’t a script. These were self-penned life narratives about their very authentic troubles.
“This is a real person, not just a statistic,” says Tyler. “To open up to each other, to open up to the audience…these are real stories, real struggles.”
Take the data, the hard numbers, and give them a human spin.
“We are bringing all these individual stories together to create a unified story, so that this one story can represent everyone’s story,” says Carrazana, who watched his performers from the soundboard. “The people at this conference are trying to connect with the youth as opposed to just seeing numbers and data. They want that human connection.”
They got it. Some stories brought folks to tears. Some stories made folks uncomfortable. Some stories inspired folks take cell phone pictures. Some stories prompted folks to stand and clap. All stories made an impact.
“There are similarities among all of them – themes, words,” says Carrazana. “So by looking at the smaller pictures, you make it easier to imagine the bigger pictures.”
Yet that bigger picture proved crystal clear once the performers made their way to the stage. The group monologue, comprised of choice lines from the individual stories, weaved in sobering facts provided by the Center for Public Policy Priorities:
- Nearly one in five Latino children in Dallas County is uninsured
- 27 percent of kids in Dallas County are food insecure or at risk of hunger
- 59 percent of Latino students in Dallas County attend high poverty school districts
- 77 percent of black students in Dallas attend schools with high teacher turnover
- 30 percent of kids in Dallas County live in poverty
And with that the performance ended with a standing ovation. As we all gathered in our huddle room down the hall, the performers exchanged comments about the experience. They came together during five rehearsals in the span of one month. They got to know each other as people, not merely fellow actors.
“I was really impressed with how much people were willing to share,” says Sittser, whose story of academic achievement was tempered by her realization that she was largely lucky. “That is really beautiful.”
Faulkner, who broke into tension-relieving impromptu miming before performing, “really liked the flexibility” of the piece. “It was not really fleshed out, but it was just…do it. I really liked the collaborative aspect.”
These young adults collaborated once more for a group picture. As they posed you could feel the connection. They are bonded by the experience, by the honesty, and by the stories.