Youth Project

Youth Project

Stairway to Change

Last year, I had the opportunity to be the project leader for an international program funded by the European commission: Stairway to Change. As a dance teacher and filmmaker, I chose my workspace for this film project. We started in January 2009 at the Beacon Center for Arts and Leadership, an after-school programming of the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services, located at the Middle and High School I.S. 291 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The Beacon Center for Arts and Leadership is an educational, recreational, and social service center serving the youth and families of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Beacon provides opportunities to create, think, communicate, and problem solve through activities that build leadership skills and empower the individual. At the Beacon Center for Arts and Leadership, the community has access to free quality programs in creative writing, visual arts, sports, media literacy, drama, music, photography, creative movement, yoga, World Dance and Martial Arts, as well as job training and personal wellness classes.

For this project, participants were drawn from the after school program serving Middle and High School students from Brooklyn and Queens. Students from underprivileged backgrounds in the inner city with low-income families rarely have the opportunity to fully express their own personal voice. Half of the participant students are part of the foster care system, and have experienced abuse at home. Because they have been taken from one foster family to another without pursuing a disrupting psychological and physical development, their ambitions for the future can be hopeless.  The project Stairway To Change not only provided training and a space to fully express their dreams but also created an archival voice in the form of a film that will remain in the community forever. Allowing these students to express their visions for the upcoming years can be crucial to decisions that they will make in their future lives.  Too often in inner city school programming, students are restricted to follow standardized testing with poor results and are not encouraged to think of a brighter future.

We began the film project with theatre training for students to get into their bodies and train their voices. The original proposal that facilitators, Vanessa Verdo (WDA) and Tatjana Mayer (Galli Theatre), had in mind was welcomed at first by the students then transformed through the process. Because students were motivated through music, instead of following a script, we decided that their artistic expression should be the major part of the film draft. After looking through the different locations in the school, participants decided that the hallways, one classroom and the streets were going to be the main locations for the shoot. They then wrote a song named ‘There Is Metal In My Body’ reflecting their daily encounter with metal detectors and screenings from security guards and cops in schools, streets and apartment building. The students’ love for music has helped them always express their true feelings and emotions, and putting their original work on camera was a very exciting experience. The fact that they were able to look at the original idea that we had and carved their own project empowered them in meaningful ways.

Students decided that the first shoot would start in the hallway going to class with a Brooklyn local cultural clapping gesture and dance called the Get Light. Using improvised dances, they delivered lyrics previously written by the politically radical rap group Nine 11 Thesaurus, composed of revolutionary MCs from Brooklyn who seek to discuss the realities of their immediate environment in the most frank, and lyrically sophisticated fashion possible. Then a tour around the neighborhood with the history of murals narrated by the students helped to give better understanding of their environment for the audience watching the film. Finally, students decided to interview the head of security at their school about the reasons behind such amount of security around the school, and the annoying process of going through metal detectors several times a day.

The final documentary film edited by Wendy James was shown in March 2009 at the New Museum in Manhattan, New York at a showcase event of the Beacon Center artists, in addition to local and international bands.  Since then, students have been very eager to share their work with the community, influencing and inspiring many others through civic example, recruitment for the program, and community projects in their neighborhood. The following fall, some examples of accomplished visions became clear: one student became part of Alvin Ailey American Ballet Theatre Junior Program; one student started college, one student received a scholarship for college, and two students entered Top High School in New York City.

As an educator interacting with the students on a regular basis, I have witnessed how the project Stairway to Change really impacted the youth. They use the skills learned through the process of the film in multiple ways through their continuing education. Up until today, when new students come into the program, older participants are proud to say that they were part of this film project that will remain in their memories forever.

Also Visit:

The Door is Open

Metal in my body


Uniquely Intellectual Prestigious Young Ladies (U.I.P.Y.L.) is a dance team composed of teenagers from Bushwick, Brooklyn. The community project that we dance and step for is poverty. We have performed in community centers, schools and theatres presenting our cause and creating change with dance and step. Our team is dedicated to impact communities. Our base is located at I.S. 291 part of the after school pragram Beacon Center for Arts and Leadership and Coalition for Hispanic Family Services.