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Alternative Names for Black Boys

Stage the Change. It’s a clever name for a powerful organization dedicated to helping students become global citizens through creativity and performance, and to providing communities with inspirational original performances, which serve as a catalyst for change. We are so honored to be selected as the first elementary school group to ever be invited to perform at their conference. On Friday, November 4, my amazing theater group from Success Academy Bronx 2 will perform, Alternative Names for Black Boys.

As a theater teacher, I believe in the power of self expression and have witnessed the profound effect performance can have both as an actor and as an audience member. Theater has proved to be a great vehicle to address social issues because it fosters a safe space for dialogue, an outlet for emotion, and the security of being someone else.

When the media began covering the killings of black men and boys, I thought about the black boys I teach at SA Bronx 2. I thought about their future. Here we are as teachers providing education to these brilliant scholars and we see them learning and growing everyday. Yet, what happens when they grow up? Our society will not see these boys like I see them: the funny, talented, inquisitive learners that I get to teach. Society will see them only as black men.

Our society will not see these boys like I see them: the funny, talented, inquisitive learners that I get to teach. Society will see them only as black men.

The death of Michael Brown sent me into an emotional state that I still have difficulty dealing with at times. The killing of innocent black men is nothing new to our country, but over the last few years social media has shed a new light on what is happening. Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it. As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.

The piece I created is broken into five sections. The first is a poem by the rapper Tupac titled “Did you hear about the rose that grew from concrete?” The second section is a compilation of lines from Langston Hughes poems about being black in America. The third section is a Danez Smith poem, which counts off all of the “names” black males are given in our country. The fourth section, which I think is the most powerful, counts off the names of the black men and boys who have been senselessly killed. Lastly, the fifth part is a monologue I wrote for the piece that drives the message of how black lives matter, especially the lives of these brilliant and talented young SA boys on stage. The piece is a vehicle to showcase what young actors can achieve: a moment on stage that is dynamic, honest, and poignant.

I also wanted to tell the boys, my boys, through the words of the piece, that they are a gift. That they matter. Their voice matters. Their talent matters. Their intelligence matters. And what better way to share that gift than theater. My hope for all that see this performance is that they truly understand our black young men have so much to offer. Then together we can stage a change.

Written by Sentell Harper November 4, 2016

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