(Lights come up on stage). After having read plays such as "Hamlet" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" with Amina and Jaye in the past, this summer RAO read Urban Quartet---four dramatic plays about issues facing today’s youth. Some of the realities spotlighted in these plays include teenage sexuality, bullying, “codes of silence” surrounding a drive-by shooting; and how teachers, parents, religious leaders, police officers, social workers, and community workers reflect upon their role in the premature and violent death of a young black man. The stories inspired students to talk about literature that is written in a realistic fashion, reminding them of their own experiences.
RAO students enjoyed reading, thinking, and discussing from the points of view of the characters whose parts they read aloud in class. Things got exciting when students read with dramatic expression. On one occasion, students stood before the class and improvised a conversation between their respective characters. Later, students said that reading plays was fun because it allowed them to feel like they were part of the action. They liked the “team effort” required of being a part of an ensemble cast of characters.
On August 6, the author of Urban Quartet, Mr. Useni Eugene Perkins, visited RAO as Guest Speaker. The author of more than 17 books---including Home Is A Dirty Street---Mr. Perkins was energetic and talkative. He brought with him stacks of handouts for the class; and gave a lively talk about early forms of communication including Egyptian hieroglyphics, West African drumming, and oral storytelling. For those interested in writing their own plays, Mr. Perkins said that in addition to creating characters and having a story to tell, conflict is what makes things interesting. He explained that imagining climaxes and resolutions are also a part of the thinking that writers do.
It isn’t every day that readers are visited by the authors of the books they read, so it was a great opportunity for RAO students to introduce themselves to a real, live author. Students shared reasons why they came to Literacy Chicago, and why they continue to enlarge their worlds with RAO’s readings and activities. Mr. Perkins commended and encouraged their growth and persistent efforts. He answered questions, and autographed books.
For the final class meeting of the summer, RAO students worked in teams and with the assistance of volunteer tutors Aja Williams and Tyrone Marshall, to compose their own endings for Mr. Perkins’ play, “Girls In The Hood”. They worked so intently that the mid-class break-time came and went without anyone getting up from their chairs! After a five-minute break, RAO resumed with students reading their compositions aloud. One student said---to nods of agreement from his classmates---that having the freedom to imagine his own ending to the story made him “feel happy.” (fade to black).