Blog: Jenny Koppera and Erin McDonald

The stage can be a role model for youth struggling to find their voice. Jenny Koppera, a founding director of the CrossTown Theatre Troupe, together with Erin McDonald, director of the theatre, will be writing about the need for youth programming and dialogue in the community.

Post 1: Youth Voice In Our Community

Young people, teens especially, live through some difficult times.  And we don’t just mean going through puberty – but their lives are more complex than many of us adults tend to believe.  They are balancing family obligations with personal needs and wants.  They themselves and their friends and family are dealing with relationships, sexuality, depression, drugs, perception, and prejudice.  And a lot of the time, they feel like they are going through all of it alone.  They seem to feel stuck and in the midst of constant change - constantly.

In addition, these are teenagers that are busy -- between school hours, clubs, jobs, projects and college applications, oftentimes they have every hour of the day accounted for and can become just as overwhelmed and stressed as an adult. When a young adult speaks out in anger or appears apathetic, an adult assumes what is going on, writes them off as an 'angsty' youth or considers their behavior that of 'just being a teenager'. It's a life constantly in flux.

How often do we consider where they are coming from? How often do adults ask youth what they are feeling and truly listen and value what they are saying? These young people have some very real feelings and experiences that they both want to and need to express.

CrossTown Theatre Troupe (CTT) is one of the programs in the area, based in Ypsilanti, that is committed to providing a safe space to young people to speak their minds and to engage with their communities for the betterment of all involved. CTT's mission is to create and to engage youth voice and to develop literacy through the use of theatre.  We create original pieces to increase community engagement, access to youth perspectives, and generate community dialogue. CTT strives to:

•    Recognize what issues the youth community deems most important
•    Provide a safe place for teens and young adults to share their experiences
•    Highlight the diverse nature of our community
•    Help establish a greater sense of accomplishment for the youth community

Yet, CrossTown Theatre Troupe is merely one program of many that believes that the young people of Michigan have something important to say and share with their community. Other groups that we are aware of in the area that are reaching out to youth – Community Records, 826, Ozone House, The Business Side of Youth, Young Peoples Project, and countless other clubs ranging from Bright Future's Math Dance to step and poetry clubs, to filmmaking are all committed to creating these safe areas where teens express and grow.  Many of these programs are available after school through CTT's partners Bright Futures 21st Century and Gear Up. Other groups nationwide doing this type of work include New York's Vibe & Chicago's Albany Park Theatre Project.

Oftentimes how parents, adults and mentors perceive youth in this community has a lot to do with the value and worth they see in themselves. What role do youth have in this community? Ideally, what role could they have?