Authoring Action’s Teens Testimonials: an institute for empowering youth
Now into its second decade, Authoring Action has reared a group of young writers and creatives who are now helping to mold even younger minds into true authors. Keeping the program going and growing, these young people certainly have something meaningful to say about our communities, society, and the world at large.
Check out these testimonials from some of the sharpest teens in Winston-Salem, as well as the leaders who helped sharpen their metaphorical quills. They talk about what makes this institution so important.
Tony Jenkins (17):
“The joy that I get from Authoring Action is really in being able to share my art. I’m an artist outside of Authoring Action -I’m an actor. Here, I’m an author, I’m a spoken word artist, musician, or a dancer. I don’t dance, yet, I could if I wanted to. Authoring Action is important because it’s the only organization that I’ve ever come across that gives youth a voice. Other places, they encourage youth to chase their dreams, but here we teach them how to take their own power, and use that power to impact society. It’s really an organization that is about change, changing for the better. We teach them the writing process and articulation, and how to engage an audience. Then we set them loose to go change our community.”
Jenkins graduated through the program as a mentee and has returned as mentor.
“What’s so great about this year, it’s the first year that they’ve had people like Willie, like Taylor and myself, who were all in the program and now we’re all mentors. It’s starting to be run by the people that they raised. We have all gone through what they’re going through so we know how to mentor that. We have two strong heads as leaders of this organization, and then we have strong leaders as mentors because we’ve had the same experiences. It’s all about life experiences so we’re able to collaborate all of these life experiences into this one big, powerful moment-with these shows, and these commencements. Now we’re about to share it with film, we just wrapped our three short films, they’re festival quality and we’re going to send them throughout the world. Now Authoring Action is going global.”
Authoring Action started in 2002. They started as the Summer Film And Theater Arts Institute, or Arts institute for short- and focused on a range of creative outlets. They changed their name to Authoring Action in 2005 when they decided to really hone in on just the written process. “Everything we do comes from the original written work, from the teen author, they write it all”, said Co-founder Lynn Rhodes.
Rhodes was a music minor in college and did some theater work, as well as coached vocals throughout the years in choirs. She brings that experience and couples it with Nathan Ross-Freeman’s creative writing and directing expertise. “We co-founded the foundation and we have other artists that work with us to develop the teens”, continued Rhodes. Ross-Freeman is the Artistic Director and writing teacher who guides the kids’ creative writing process. They write original works that then, with collaborating artists, become works for stage and film. A piece that they’ve written may be developed into movement, or into song, in which musicians help them with their lyrics to become songs for stage presentations. For example, Family Services will have them do pieces around domestic violence. Last year they did a whole show for the North Carolina Workforce Development Conference that all revolved around economics.
“We were founded to develop teen authors to create original written work, from their life stories, but also, societal issues, and to address those, through their written work, for stage and film. The idea was to give young people voice in the community. That’s our outreach piece, but also to develop them. Their ability to write, their ability to be articulate around issues, to think critically, to really be an author. Which means you research a topic, absorb it, internalize it, and then be able to write and speak about it”, Rhodes said.
Now, this summer’s program, “Awedahcity”, the name that this summer’s ensemble gave itself, focused on the ‘journey’ or ‘odyssey’ as a theme. All the works they generated revolved around this theme and starting in the fall, they’ll be invited to engage different organizations in the community, and write towards an assignment. In November, the teens will team up with the Reynolda House around the Smithsonian’s Romare Bearden exhibition, developing a show around the theme.
Jimmy Jeter (18): Music Director 2012
“I joined in 2007, did the ensemble, and didn’t do it the following year. I wanted to get into a little bit of theater. I gained so much confindence. I was beginning to understand who I was through this company, and I figured out that I wanted to explore more theater. I came back because I wanted more. I wasn’t quite sure what that more was, but I knew I wanted to improve on my creative writing. I knew that this was the only institute in Winston-Salem that could help me do that. I came back and ended up getting into the music aspect of Authoring Action. Ms. Lynn and Mr. Nathan saw something (in me) that I didn’t quite understand and (that) allowed me to be more with the music than the writing. From there, I found that I had a gift to be with music more, and its worked out with my writing, encouraging me to write a lot more. They gave me the opportunity to be the music director every year. It’s crazy to even say that! It’s humbling, you know, to be apart of this institute that helped me so tremendously; to have a voice for myself. This company is really specific and really good at giving kids a voice. Here, I’ve been able to focus on my writing, focus on the music, focus on my stage presence. Here you do everything, but you give attention to specific things. It’s so unique, the specific attention in the area you need. Another thing I like is that it’s not just adults teaching but people who have been through, wrestled with the process, and the process of being an Assegai. It gives you a reason to come everyday and work hard.”
assegai, assagai [ˈæsəˌgaɪ]
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003
Nathan Ross-Freeman adopted the term and applied it to writing.
“It’s a Zulu word. Shaka Zulu broke his spear in half so that he could get a closer encounter with his opponents and we take the non-violent connotation of that word, where we consider the pen as the short spear. That demand. When we write and present our writings in spoken word and film, we demand a close encounter with issues that are relevant and prevelant throughout the community. We basically work with organizations throughout the year, that journey to create change in human development. Whether it be domestic abuse, or justice, civil, social, community issues, or whatever. Our motto is Assegai. The pen is the short spear, and the pen is mightier than the sword, and words are more powerful than violence”, Ross-Freeman elaborated about their use of the word.
Jeter went on to explain that any new student to the institute should come prepared to embody the Assegai approach.
” Come expecting to do something out of your element and because of that you’ll walk out so much stronger, in who you are, what you do. You have to have an expectation of excellence for yourself, and if you have that, you will gain so much. It’s not easy to get what you want so you have to work, and this ensemble will nurture you, but it will also push you to a level that you’ve never been to before. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally”, added Jeter.
“When I first started here I learned a lot of self-confidence. They teach you that your words actually mean something. I think it’s important for people to understand that what you have to say is important. They gave gravity to my words. I was thirteen when I first started, so I was in the transition of elementary and middle school. I was kind of lost but I had a lot to say. This year, as a mentor, I feel that I’ve taught them not to go back on what they say. When they are trying to get their point across they tend to shy away, and I teach them to stand up. If you want to say something, say it! Confidence is really important in this program. When I first started I was learning how to play piano. Working with this program, they taught me how to write songs, put lyrics to what I play on the piano. I’m still learning, but I take that away from here.”
Wilfredo Felix (24): Visual Arts Director 2012
” I’ve been apart of this program from day one, and I’m just helping to teach these kids how to express themselves through art. Through acrylic paints, glue, a bunch of paper, stuff we can utilize to make a backdrop. We want it to be presentable and somewhat professional, because that’s what we’re striving for, to be professional adults. When I was in here in 2003, I was pretty much a knuckelhead and I was in here for five weeks. And within those weeks, after coming in as a knuckelhead, I came out as a young adult. (Now) I’ve pretty much evolved into that person where I can look back and see the change. This program helped me out a lot, I’m using that. I’m just back here to help these kids. In the future they can look back at this date and remember this summer because there was somebody who listened to them, (who) helped them out. Instead of feeling the cold shoulder, feeling the negative tension, at school or at home. There are a lot of negative people out here who always want to put you down, but I’m helping out because I can relate to that-wanting to get help but always getting the cold shoulder. When I was in the summer institute they just pretty much molded me. So, instead of staying an outcast in school I became a more expressive individual. One word to describe this program, Magic. It’s magical. This marks the end of the first decade (of the program), we’re about to go into the second decade. We’re going to show the city how much we are changing from pre-teens into young adults.”
“I did the program two years (prior), this is my third year, and I’m mentoring this year. It doesn’t matter if you went through something bad or something good, you can always switch it and make something good or better out of it. Also, No matter how young you are you can do anything if you put your mind to it. This year we have a lot of 12 and 13 year olds. It doesn’t matter if you have your birth parents, both parents or not, if you have a good surrounding, (then) you have a good home.”
It is participants such as Terry, that really offer a true perspective on the institute. He reflects the kind of attitude and skill set that all of the Authoring Action youth possess. It seems like a simple thing, something obvious even. Speaking. Confidence. Communication. Expression. However, it is extremely noteworthy and unmistakable that these youngsters are able to articulate themselves, with such eloquence and seasoned demeanor.
Nathan Ross-Freeman has helped to ingrain intellectualism into these kids’ minds. As a result, they are armed with mental power, and prepared to fuse that power with their emotions to tell their own stories, and use their experiences to realize their own potential.
“Voice is power. Voice is literary. Voice is votes. Voice is entrepreneurship. That’s our focus, our focus is on literacy. For Authoring Action, we define literacy as more than your ability to read and write. “We define literacy as your ability to read and write on a level that you can negotiate your dreams to come true”, said Ross-Freeman.
When they gather for the five week summer session, Authoring Action dubs it their “Summer Intensive” because it IS intense. In the far side of three weeks, 15 of the 40 participating kids wrote over 105 literary works, developed ten lyrics, as well as written,produced, and directed three festival quality short films. Tied into the ‘odyssey’ or ‘journey’ themes, the film works dealt with the topics of ‘Global Awareness’, ‘Family’, and ‘Acceptance’.
“Global Awareness” was written/directed by Tony Jenkins. For Family, ‘The Fall of Troy” was written/directed by Willie Holmes II, and “Necklace of Thorns” ,which deals with acceptance, was written/directed by Diana Daniels.
Veteran participants like Willie Holmes II have reached Assegai status within Authoring Action. He, along with Jenkins, and a few others have been creatively stimulated by the progam’s intensity and high regard for excellence. They have gone from student, to teacher, from taking direction, to directing. Holmes realized his affinity for film, and writing for the screen, this summer.
Willie Holmes II(21):
“The screenplay that I wrote is about the fall of Troy. It’s about a family who has gone through these challenges, where their father dies, they’re grieving. The son, Troy, doesn’t know how to deal with it. The mother loses her job. So, they’re trying to deal with death and everyday life. Things that have happened to everybody, it’s a tough economy. He’s trying to figure out how to be a man while also being able to deal with his feelings. This is my first serious attempt at filmmaking. It’s something that I’m interested in doing further, I actually have a feature length that I’m writing with my friend Tony (Jenkins). We’e both going to write and direct it. Hopefully, we’ll finish that this year. I’ve been involved with Authoring Action for five years now. Something I learned is that words are powerful, words can change. Growing up I always thought that being strong meant something physical, that you had to be the biggest, baddest person, to control things. But, being here, I learned that words and speaking, and being intelligent is more important than anything. What you say can change people’s minds from here to across the globe. One thing that I hope to pass along is (that) everything that they have been through, even though it may have been a hard, or horrible experience, they can use that experience to change somebody’s life. They can write about it (and) someone in the audience may have gone throught it and they can help that person survive.
Every teen that participated in this summer’s intensive Authoring Action program as a member of Awedahcity ensemble will continue to work with the program through the school year, continuing to improve and produce work. They will be screening their short films in October and entertaining collaborations with local artists, businesses, and organizations the rest of the year.
“We’re one of the many youth programs in forsyth county and the triad area, and I think that it’s vital that any programs in this area and across the country, support any effort that our youth are making to develop their voices”, said Ross-Freeman. The youth will spend two days a week developing work for various venues across the Triad. Expectations remain high for Ross-Freeman, Rhodes, and all of the kids.
“We believe that all teens in this community have a capacity for brilliance, and learning. The capacity to be writers, to be expressive of themselves. They just need the opportunity, and they need people to work with them and believe in them. You’re going to write it, develop it with other artists as an ensemble (and) produce it together. There’s this goal that we create and we work together to get there. For some kids, they can feel really alone, so its good for them to know that they have a real support system. We continue to nurture them all year round”, added Rhodes.
Keep up with the ongoing program by visiting www.authoringaction.org