I was 14 when I joined Albany Park Theater Project in the spring of 2000. That same year I started at a high school notorious for after-school shootings and a high dropout rate. My own family fell victim to schools with similar statistics; not one person had graduated from high school. I remember my grandmother having tears roll down her face because my uncles had all failed out of the system, and there was a continuing sense that there’s violence in this neighborhood, and we’re being swallowed up by it.
I thought I was joining a theater company. I thought I would read some plays, learn some lines, and perform Shakespeare. Instead, I discovered a community of artists and activists. We weren’t just performers. We were advocates, ethnographers, and reformers. After a year, I sat on the board of directors. I was a spokesperson for the company when news reporters and radio hosts interviewed me. I choreographed dances, directed a play, told a family story and watched it come to life. For five years and more than twenty plays, dances, and musical compositions, I was a voice of the people in my community. I told stories that revealed intimate secrets of war, abuse, and loss – and others that celebrated cultural and historical lineage, including my own.
In high school, I was just a student. At APTP, I was powerful.
I became the first in my family to graduate high school, received my bachelor’s degree from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, and earned a master’s degree in education.
Dating back to my APTP days, I have always been frustrated with the education system in our country. I decided to do something about it, so I chose a career in education. Currently, I am a middle school Reading Teacher in the Bronx, New York. This year, I teach 66 wonderful students. My students live in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States, not too far from the richest district. Entering 6th grade, they are already years behind their more affluent counterparts in both math and reading. But we don’t let their zip code dictate their future. Our goal as a school is to get our students to and through college. Our students are three times more likely to graduate from a four-year college or university than the low-income average.
In the spirit of APTP, I take on many roles with my students: teacher, mentor, dance instructor, and advocate. As their reading teacher, I push them to engage with rigorous texts, fall in love with literature, and see themselves as lifelong readers. As their mentor, I push them to love themselves, their teammates, and the community they come from.
Although my students may never understand my experiences with Albany Park Theater Project, they are unquestionably a part of a ripple effect that started there. APTP fostered individuality and voice in every single person that walked through their doors. They saw and embraced our potential. When we didn’t see ourselves as dancers, writers, or poets, they did. Although I haven’t performed with the company in more than a decade, I continue to live every day with the values instilled in me while I was there.”