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‘IN MY WORDS’ with New Settlement’s program for girls and young women

AmNews Staff Reports | 4/13/2017, 12:07 p.m.
The area surrounding New Settlement is one of the most at-risk in New York City in terms of poverty, literacy ...

The area surrounding New Settlement is one of the most at-risk in New York City in terms of poverty, literacy and education. Less than 30 percent of District 9 elementary- and middle-school students meet state and city requirements in reading or math. Almost 50 percent of District 9 schools responding to an arts education survey had no full-time certified arts teachers on staff, and 30 percent had no arts staff at all. In New Settlement’s immediate neighborhood, only 11 percent of students graduate college ready.

IN MY WORDS (www.inmywordsbronx.org) brings young women from the South Bronx together to make music, films, poetry and theater and to share their stories. Now in its third year, IN MY WORDS serves 24 girls and young women aged 13 to 18 during the NYC public schools spring recess.

The intensive workshop provides participants with a minimum of 45 hours of arts training and piece-making in multiple media, exploring the role of the arts in personal growth, community health and resistance and art as a catalyst for social change. The intensive training includes a two-night artist’s retreat in Carmel, N.Y., where workshop activities have included high-adventure ropes courses, midnight sensory walks, sauna sister time, art making in nature and campfire storytelling. The project culminates in a public performance in which participants share their original work with the South Bronx community.

“The young women who participate experience a lot in a very short span of time, training, bonding and stretching their sense of self,” stated Renee Benson, IN MY WORDS teaching artist and program developer. “We have six days with them, and what we do in that time influences how they see themselves moving forward. One particular participant arrived in year one, full of energy, but that tended to turn inward. She had difficulty connecting to peers and collaborating with others. Through the support of the teaching artists, other participants and being part of the program, we were able to direct her to focus her energy into productive channels and strengthen her communication skills while honoring her unique perspectives. Her final piece, “This Morning I…,” was chosen to be one of the few solo pieces of the group’s performance. Now, in her third year, she has been chosen as one of our three film interns because of her skill to work well with others.

“Through getting to know these young women and providing the space to show us how they need to be heard, we listen with our ears and hearts and can effectively support personal development. IN MY WORDS is a program about building confidence through creative expression and dialogue, as well as encouraging young women to think critically about the issues that affect their communities, and envision a more just society. We want our girls to learn how tough they are now, versus when they find themselves in crisis. This year’s theme is ‘Resistance.’”

The workshop begins Monday, April 10, and culminates with a final public performance Saturday, April 15, at 6 p.m. at New Settlement Community Campus, 1501 Jerome Ave., Bronx, N.Y.

IN MY WORDS 2017 is led by the following teaching artists:

• Renee Benson, IMW conception and development (www.reneebensonmusic.com)

• Joy Leonard, director and founder of New Settlement’s program for girls and young women

• Michaela Leslie Rule, IMW filmmaking mentor (www.factmemorytestimony.com)

• Moana Niumeitolu, IMW visual art and poetry in performance