News Column

In New Haven SpeakLife! performance tonight, audience participation welcome

June 27, 2014

By Rachel Chinapen, New Haven Register, Conn.

June 27--NEW HAVEN -- When performers hit the stage tonight -- don't be afraid to interrupt.

In fact, they hope you will.

SpeakLife!'s Youth Violence Prevention Group will celebrate the launch of its summer campaign with a forum theater performance at Wexler Grant School. The interactive performance is free and runs from 6 to 8 p.m.

Also known as theater of the oppressed, forum theater invites members of the audience to participate in a performance to change the outcome of a scene.

The group's summer campaign zeroes in on education and ending community violence.

In the realm of education, the group seeks to change policies they feel hurt students through conversation and collaboration with school leaders. As for community violence, part of the initiative will include planting memorial trees for homicide victims and beautifying the city.

SpeakLife! founder Joshua Williams said he looks forward to seeing the streets "look cleaner" this summer and seeing "more positive things" about youth in the media.

Member Aaron Valles, 17, who joined the group after they visited New Horizons High School, said he hopes to see more unity in the city this summer.

"I don't want to have to see people worrying about they can't go into this neighborhood, or they can't go into this neighborhood, because they have beef here, or they beef here," Valles said. "We're all in the same city. I want us to be able to come together as a community and hold each other up instead of bringing each other down."

Williams started the youth group SpeakLife! in 2011 after he lost his cousin to violence. The group is a part of BreakThru! Inc., a statewide group founded by Williams' mother Sheeva Williams-Nelson.

"It basically rooted from, 'I don't want other people to feel what I'm feeling right now,' so we wanted to do something about it," Williams said.

Breakthru! Inc. also started during the summer of 2011 in response to ongoing violence across the state. Breakthru! works to improve the community through advocacy, community outreach and creativity, and support of vocational, educational and life goals.

Williams said it's important for him to go into the high schools because the group creates a network for youth and "helps them express what they're seeing, what they go through."

"I didn't think too much about life and how big the responsibilities are when it's like your day, eight hours of it is not in school, you gotta lot of time and you need to do something with it," Williams said.

Zaria Hyman, 17, said she hopes to see "better behavior" among "youth" from their initiative.

As for collaboration, Williams said the group is hoping to partner with other organizations across the city to have the greatest impact.

"I'm hoping to see us all move as one big force, I feel that'll have a way bigger effect," Williams said.

Call Rachel Chinapen at 203-789-5714. Have questions, feedback or ideas about our news coverage? Connect directly with New Haven Register editors at


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Source: New Haven Register (CT)

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