breaking walls is an international creative writing and performance initiative that focuses teen minds on identity, values and empathy, and guides them to explore significant, current issues in their lives leading to validation and respect for themselves and others.
Breaking Walls initially focused on youth in Bethlehem and Brooklyn. Since our 2012 initiative in Berlin, we have become an inclusive, global, creative activist initiative pairing kids struggling with social unrest, intolerance, peer pressure and life in a “virtual world” where we write, perform and share face-to-face dialogue.
breaking walls deepens our writer-performers’ understanding of and compassion for others as they grow from the teens of today to the artists and leaders of tomorrow.
breaking walls is the outgrowth of my documentary films bethlehem to brooklyn: breaking the surface (2008) and the award-winning brooklyn bridges- to bethlehem & back (2010). It is an ongoing, viable non-profit global arts activism program empowering youth to discover their voice and take their place on the world stage through the arts and face-to-face dialogue.
Berlin was selected for our initial Breaking Walls program because the vision of dismantling the Berlin Wall inspired breaking walls to dream even larger than Bethlehem & Brooklyn. Over nine-days 16 new writer-performers from Bethlehem, Brooklyn and Berlin experienced the writing-performing workshop as well as face-to-face dialogue while touring Berlin together. The most exciting aspect of the Berlin workshop was the writing-performing was led by six Brooklyn and Bethlehem youth facilitators who were cast members of both documentaries. In the words of breaking walls Bethlehem Project Manager Amira Abu Srour, “It’s so nice to see our kids and the Brooklyn kids who are usually seen as the ones in need of intervention taking their place as world leaders.” The new writer-performers are students of our 2012 partners: ACORN Community High School in Brooklyn; Al-Rowwad Cultural Center in Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem and, Nelson Mandela Schule in Berlin.
Breaking Walls is proud to announce that our 2014 partner will be 12 Rainbow Dreams Trust/Hope House youth, ages 13 – 16, in Cape Town, South Africa. We believe our initiative will assist the Cape Town young men and women to discover their voice and offer them a platform on which to use it while they build a community with the writer-performers from Brooklyn, Bethlehem and Berlin through writing about issues of isolation, self-esteem, and the legacy of apartheid.
Breaking Walls 2014 Cape Town is introducing our initiative with a series of five Skype sessions between July 2013 and June 2104. These sessions will break down the walls between all four delegations, and, begin the community building and writing process is an integral part of Breaking Walls. The excitement generated in our July session holds great promise for the moment we all connect and interact in person. Dannie Kagan, Executive Director of Rainbow Dreams Trust, sees this promise beautifully, “Our children from the township often have little self-worth and self-esteem, this is one of our biggest challenges, getting them to believe in themselves and have the confidence to present to others. breaking walls is going to be so good for them. I will delight in seeing them come out of their shells – especially through the Theater performance they create together with the Bethlehem, Brooklyn and Berlin children.” From August 3 to 13, 2014, our 24 writer-performers and 7 facilitators from Brooklyn, Bethlehem, Berlin and Cape Town will come together to make this vision a reality. Our culminating performance will happen on August 12, 2014.
We are thrilled that the Children’s Radio Foundation has asked to be a second Breaking Walls 2014 Cape Town partner. Our joint goal is for two CRF teen producers to collaborate with Breaking Walls to broadcast writer-performer interviews and a preview of our culminating theater performance on their CRF station!!
Breaking Walls is considering future partnerships with youth in Barcelona, Detroit and Warsaw during 2015, 2016 and 2017.
breaking walls takes a unique approach to youth empowerment, leadership and empathy by addressing four challenges youth in the 21st Century face:
· Social Unrest – Amid chaos, conflict and societal pressures, young men and women struggle for a sense of normalcy, control and the ideals they believe are right. As they navigate towards the bright, happy futures they desire, their choices are sometimes inspirational, sometimes bad and scary. breaking walls offers youth the opportunity to demonstrate that coming-of-age and activism define and shape individual lives.
· Intolerance – As government officials, community leaders and social media push reactionary intolerance in the form of racist, religious and ideological bating, breaking walls offers youth the opportunity to collaborate as empathetic, proactive allies and activists in the change-making and peacebuilding processes.
· Peer Pressure – Today’s youth continually face “Haters & Fakes” in schools, churches, neighborhoods, and in the ubiquitous “Everyone.” “Haters” resent those youth they see as possessing a life plan and consistently challenge that upward, forward progress. “Fakes” attach themselves to positive, empowered youth and attempt to reroute their energy to serve a hidden agenda. Through reflective, creative and multi-disciplinary writing and performing,breaking walls encourages young minds to discover their values and identity and to deepen their understanding of and compassion for others; and, to use the insights, skills and tools developed in our initiative as they transition into leaderships positions.
· Life in a “Virtual World” – The influence, proliferation and immediacy of social media blurs boundaries of right and wrong, provides a false shield against consequences and repercussion, and pits the lure of notoriety against the restraint of common sense and decency. breaking walls demonstrates that social media can’t replace face-to-face dialogue and fosters the understanding that a personal profile not only reflects their chosen perception of themselves, but it determines their perception by others.
breaking walls allows participants to explore current issues significant in their lives while strengthening literacy and critical thinking skills, and, simultaneously guiding these youth to become the dynamic, empathetic leaders in high demand in the 21st century. One of the most exciting elements of breaking wallsis its capacity to adapt to the specific issues facing an individual site or the particular community involved in the program.