Winner City at Peace

By Ep | Whole Earth, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Winner City at Peace


Ep, Whole Earth


On a stage in Washington, D.C., young people are gathering together to tell their stories. A few are homeless. Some live in shelters and foster care homes. Some are wealthy and live in mansions. Some are high school dropouts. Others are "A" students in private schools. Some have been abused. They are all between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. They are homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual. They are Euro-American, African American, Latino, Arab, Asian, and mixes of all of these.

The teenagers have decided to spend a year in "City at Peace," a musical theater group whose staff helps them write and star in their own show. The show is a series of skits, musicals, dialogs, and dances based on their life experiences. It tours the city's theaters, community centers, churches, and schools.

The Washington, D.C. group, now headed by Sandra Halloway, was the first City at Peace program. It has been honored with the Margaret Mead Award because it is a tiny group (nine employees, including a choreographer and musical and technical directors) that has created a model for other Cities at Peace in Charlotte, North Carolina; four in Santa Barbara, California: three in Israel: and others in the works for Los Angeles and Jordan.

Since its beginning in 1994, more than 500 youth from over sixty schools and workplaces have participated, performing nine original musicals before more than 50,000 audience members.

City at Peace doesn't stop with the performances. It partners with community organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, local elementary schools, and other nonprofits to discuss ways to resolve issues facing youth. It creates educational materials for adults, it coordinates theatrical games for younger children in elementary schools.

That's just how Paul Griffin, the idealistic founder, wanted it. Paul saw the theater as a natural way to encourage growth and empower kids who might otherwise "fall through the cracks."

"I was fat. I was weird. I was lonely," writes Assata Elom Perkins. "I was coping with problems I didn't feel I deserved. I was slashing my wrists. That was before I got in City at Peace. Inside City at Peace I felt loved and accepted and I had a second home.... I could talk about my feelings and not be judged."

Nobody is accepted to City at Peace on the basis of talent. Hundreds of youths "audition" each year by filling out a personal survey about their lives. The staff selects the applicants who can make the time commitment and who will benefit most from the program --around 120 altogether. …

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