Youth arts activists to present multi-genre production exploring residents' connection to Ypsilanti

Staying Power/Staying Home, an Ypsilanti youth-driven program focused on arts activism for housing justice, is back in 2022 with a new production and new partnerships. The program will present a multi-genre production called "Spoke From the Soil: When Love is a Thing Called Home” May 14-15 at Ypsilanti Community High School, 2095 Packard St. in Ypsilanti Township.

Staying Power's roots date back to 2008, when poet and activist Donté Clark and Michigan native Molly Raynor co-founded RAW Talent, a youth performing arts program, in Richmond, Calif. When Raynor moved back to Michigan in 2017, they began a sort of cultural exchange between Michigan and California. With help from some local grants, the Staying Power program was born.

The program went virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raynor says that resulted in a series of weekly virtual workshops for "teens constricted by economic, transportation, or disability barriers," as well as a name change to Staying Power/Staying Home.

In spring of 2021, the program offered a virtual presentation called "Odes to Home," featuring the nationally known memoirist Kiese Laymon as well as youth and adult poets from Staying Power/Staying Home.

This year, Staying Power/Staying Home has partnered with the Ypsilanti Community High School choir for an in-person event. The performance will feature 20 youth from the Staying Power program in a theatrical production that was written, in part, by the youth themselves and based on their own experiences with gentrification and housing instability. Another 20 youth from the high school's choir will also be involved in the production.

"Last year, we had young people write poetry about being unhoused and about gentrification, and the theater was used in interludes for comic relief and to move it along," Raynor says. "This time, it's a full stage production with sets, scenes, and characters. An additional 20 young people will act as the ancestors of the people in the show, and they sing to them."

The title of the show comes from a cast member, Anika Love, who wrote a poem that included the line "Spoke from the Soil."

"We thought it was perfect for a title, because we're focusing on Mother Earth and Indigenous plants and wisdom," Raynor says. 

Raynor says past shows have focused on land and home ownership. But in the last few years, Staying Power staff have focused on connecting to the earth and following the Indigenous belief that you can't own the earth, but land owns the people. They've embedded that theme in this year's production.

"There's a [performer portraying a] 400-year-old sugar maple tree telling the story of Ypsilanti back before colonization," Raynor says. 

Teen facilitator and intern Maria Theocharakis has been coaching students in their performances. She says that all the participants live or work in Ypsilanti.

"It was important to highlight and stay true to Ypsilanti. We see each other at stores and participate in the Ypsi economy, and we're all really affected by gentrification," she says. "Most or all of the youth who came to auditions have been touched by gentrification, rise in rents, homelessness, or displacement. It was important in this show to bring attention to these issues while also honoring Indigenous people and the land we're on."

Tickets are $5 for youth 21 and under, or $15 for adults. Free tickets are available for middle and high school students by emailing stayingpowerypsi@gmail.com. More information about the show and the Staying Power/Staying Home program is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Staying Power/Staying Home.
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