Pride Foundation was a co-sponsor of “Our Voices,” a multi-cultural youth playwriting project with January performances held in Caldwell and Boise, Idaho. Our guest blogger, Donna Harwood is the executive director of Lion’s Pride and chairperson for Lion’s Pride Cubs, a 2010 Pride Foundation Idaho grantee.
What can one say about one of the most amazing experiences in her life? I don’t even know where to begin. I first learned about the Our Voices project when Jamie Delavan, cultural liaison with the Bureau of Community & Environmental Health in Boise, invited my family to an informational meeting about the project in October 2011. I didn’t know what to expect, and I certainly didn’t know that what I heard that night was going to be life-changing.
What I saw were a few cleverly written short plays by young Native American youth. The discussion that followed is what really excited me. I heard stories of troubled youth who after this program turned their lives around, and even continued on to college. Ideas began forming in my head about what this could do for LGBTQ youth, and my suspicion is Jamie had intended this as well. She introduced me to Tom Kellogg, the director of Mentor Artists Playwrights Project (MAPP) and that very night Tom and I began discussing the possibilities of a program that includes LGBTQ youth. I didn’t sleep at all that night, with my head swimming with all the reasons why I needed to be a part of this project to get LGBTQ youth involved. I fell in love with the idea behind the Our Voices project and what it could do in the lives of youth.
Fast forward to September 2012. After much planning, fundraising and preparation, eleven selected students who were to become young writers, along with eleven mentors who would guide them, met for the first time in a Borah High School classroom in Boise. I was one of the lucky mentors who had the pleasure of assisting with the creative process. The young writers included Native American, Hispanic, refugee, and LGBTQ youth. For one glorious week under the directorial guidance of Tom Kellogg, young writers and mentors engaged in a creative process resulting in eleven thought-provoking plays, entirely original works by these high school students.
Finally, during the week of January 21 (Martin Luther King week), professional actors read each play before audiences of hundreds at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, and Borah High School and Boise State University in Boise. Each young playwright watched their play unfold in a seat of honor onstage and looked on as the audience responded with gasps of wonder at the thought-provoking characters and issues, and laughed along with the more comedic plays.
When each student was praised with applause for their hard work, I felt jubilation that I’m sure was shared by their proud parents and families. I wouldn’t have traded this opportunity to witness these eleven youth blossom into budding young writers for anything. In fact, I want to do it again. Spending time getting to know these young people is an experience that will stick with me the rest of my life.
I’m so grateful to project organizer Kessler-Keener Lectures, Pride Foundation and the many other sponsors for providing this incredible opportunity to mentor these creative, talented, and beautiful young human beings. May their voices echo in our ears for generations to come.
Steve is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.