When I was younger, I could never get into even the slightest argument because right away I would begin to cry. There used to be this girl in my old neighborhood who would scream at me and call me 'tupid' every time she saw me. She had nappy hair and the tip of her tongue was cut off. I swear—I would seriously have nightmares about her! I could never or would never defend myself back then.
Times have changed for me. It's always amazing to see the little boy I was then, and the person I am growing up to be. Now, I stand up and defend my community—to the point of being outcaste and hurt. My mom always says, 'why you?' All I can really say is, 'I don't know Ma.' Why do I always get myself caught up in social-justice issues? I think it's because I've learned the privilege I have to fight oppression by being vocal.
One winter while at DePaul University I was looking to do something to blend my love for art and activism. My friend told me of a program, which I decided to check out. That was my first encounter with the About Face Youth Theatre.
Joining their youth theatre workshops, I had never been around so many different types of GLBT youth from all over the Chicagoland area. There were people with funky hair, piercings all over, and lots of eccentric personalities. I felt out of place because the majority of the people were so different than the people I hung out with. There were out and active 14-year-olds. There were high school seniors getting harassed. But we were together in a community understanding each other. We started to know about each other through our stories. We would partner up and tell stories about becoming strong, a time HIV and AIDS intersected into our lives, where we came from, and where we plan to go. It was amazing. We would create scenes from our lives. We would create our histories and share it with the world.
Through this six-month performance workshop, I learned the power of storytelling, and the power I have to make a change. After our workshops, we presented our work on the main stage. It was exhilarating presenting our stories for all to see. At the curtain call, older men would be crying, women would embrace their loved ones; smiles from youth who identified with the stories were shown throughout the audience. I truly felt embraced by my community.
After two years of being transformed through the amazing and inspiring adults in the program that do such amazing work, my voice has gotten stronger. I have learned so many things about my peers, my community, and myself.
About Face Youth Theatre has made such a huge impact on my life and continues to transform me. It has allowed me to be active in GLBT activism while keeping my love for the arts. I've had the opportunity to travel to California, Washington, D.C., many other states sharing the skills of using theatre as a tool for activism. With a candle ritual, we leave the workshop participants with tears in their eyes because of the strong connections they have made through telling stories —their stories. I have gone to several high schools and community groups as an actor and a facilitator to discuss GLBT issues.
I have continued to share my experiences with others not only to empower myself, but also to empower others.
There is so much hate and oppression in this country. We need to learn to talk with each other. Get to know ourselves without labels. Get to know our stories and learn from each other. Theatre can hold the power to open dialogue and build change agents. Three years ago I walked into a room full of strangers—strangers that have changed my life and have made me into a better person. I am so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful family.
It is now the fifth year anniversary of the About Face Youth Theatre. It did so much for me—so much that I want to share it with you. So much that I'm here taking time out to write about my experience. Their latest youth show, Up Until NOW, has a historic run at the Goodman Theatre. Help them celebrate a history that has affected so many young people through their five years in existence.
It's almost funny how I was so defenseless back in the day. The girl who would call me 'tupid' had such control over my feelings. She knew exactly how to hurt me. One day, I prepared myself to fight back. I took a milk ring and turned it inside out. The scratchy part was ready to hurt. When she came at me, I grabbed her by her hair and scratched her all over her face. I can not believe how vicious I was. I feel bad about that now. Now, I don't hurt anyone physically, and try not to hurt anyone emotionally. I can defend myself, but not by hurting others. I can stand up not only for myself, but my wonderful community full of so many rich stories.
For more information on the About Face Youth Theatre show, call (773) 784-8565 ext. 103 or check-out www.afyt.com . Contact Tony at opalga.org .