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Theater company builds confidence, awareness

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From balancing school and a social life, first heartbreaks and hormones, adolescence is a difficult time. Add in a global pandemic, a recession and a national reckoning on race, and children today perhaps have more on their plate than previous generations. 

That’s where the Sankofa Paradigm Initiative hopes to help. 

The theater program, created in 2019 as a partnership with the Asante Children’s Theatre, Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis, and Community Health Network, gives girls ages 7 to 18 the opportunity to not only hone their artistic skills, but gives them a chance to discuss issues and build their sense of community.

“The theater is focused on emotional well-being, building a sense of confidence and identity, and having pride in your community,” Camike Jones, program coordinator for Sankofa Paradigm Initiative, said. “We want to build the girls’ wellness overall, and also focus on self-care and coping skills, as well as the theater we’re doing.”

Throughout the six-week program, the girls meet twice a week — virtually, for now, due to the pandemic — to create an original play. Throughout the process, they do team building exercises meant to start conversation, as well as let them process all that’s happening in the world around them. 

“The main thing we addressed pre-COVID was systemic traumas that the girls face, especially those in the African American community,” Jones said. “ … With COVID, we were also able to address the global trauma of the pandemic.”

At each session, a worker from Community Health Network was involved to help both the adults and the diverse group of girls discuss COVID-19 and the ongoing discussions surrounding race. Through the conversations, Jones said the girls were able to process their own traumas and create a play that reflects the “wounds of the world” and possibilities to heal. 

“We incorporated theater games into emotional conversations, and that really opened up those discussions,” Jones said. “One girl who had lost a family member could relate to one of the characters in the play. Art is a way of expressing yourself, and sometimes a child won’t have the necessary tools or vocabulary to do so, so art is a great way to help.”

Shalia Thompson’s daughter, Malliah, learned about the program through the Boys and Girls Club. Malliah, 11, has always been passionate about the arts and theater.  

“She always got so excited for practices and rehearsals,” Shalia said. “Because of the pandemic, she couldn’t have any physical contact with friends, so she was always so happy for online rehearsals.” 

Shalia said, since joining the theater, she’s seen Malliah take more initiative.  

The final product of six weeks of work, “Dream Fire,” a fantasy piece set in an ancient village was shown online Aug. 21. Jones said it incorporated a dragon to be slayed and is about how a community can overcome challenges and heal. 

Enrollment is currently open for the group’s next session. Jones said, for now, the plan is to have a hybrid model for meetings, but most will take place virtually. 

As the mother of two children who were involved in theater as children, Jones knows the importance of human connection and creativity. 

“When you develop performing arts skills, you learn to love yourself and form a sense of identity,” Jones said. “The kids already have a lot of resiliency. Adults just need to recognize that and support it.”  

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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