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High School Student Theatre Project Confronts Prejudice

Justice Organization of Youth (JOY) members rehearse for their upcoming performance
Kelly Walker
Finger Lakes Public Radio

Rural and Migrant Ministry is a New York non-profit that has worked in support of farmworkers’ rights for more than 30 years. Today and tonight in Rochester, they they host their annual symposium and fundraising dinner.

“Every year we have a symposium piece, which is where people can come and hear other people’s stories and ask questions and it’s sort of like an education piece. Then we have the dinner, which is a fundraiser for the organization in which we have special keynote speakers. This year, the dinner is around undocumented students, their stories and their successes. We have as our keynote speaker Cesar Vargas, the first undocumented lawyer in New York state.”

Gabriela Quintanilla is the associate Western New York Coordinator for Rural and Migrant Ministry. In addition to working with farmworkers, she also works with high school students who will present their own stories as part of tonight’s program.

“I think the students were looking for a way to showcase the issues that are happening in their communities beyond just giving a speech or just a representation. So, they agreed that the best way to do this right now was using theatre.”

The students in the Justice Organization of Youth, known as JOY, meet on Fridays to talk about social justice issues. When they take the stage tonight, they will present an original piece of theatre. The work is not drawn from a playwright’s script, but from their own experiences, which they have shared with one another and collectively refined into a short play. Mariam Gonzalez is one of the JOY student performers.

“At last year’s Harvest Symposium we performed a skit, which was like a last minute thing. So, when we were deciding what kind of a group we wanted to be, we really felt strongly towards theatre, which is why we decided to do this. We didn’t just want to be any theatre group. So, we decided that it would be interesting if we wrote the plays ourself and they came from our stories.”

Dakota Hinchman plays the character of Angel, a student dealing with prejudice from fellow students and teachers in their new school. Hinchman says through enacting their shared experiences, the students hope to educate the audience on the impact their own words and actions can have.

“I’d say that I hope they take away that they’re able to at least think about maybe their actions and what they’ve done in some cases because a lot of what’s in the script there, what Angel goes through it’s exaggerated in the script in the actual world there a lot of this stuff happens we don’t often speak up about it because people often view it as, ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal, it’s a tiny thing, get over it, it’s not a big deal.’"

JOY performs as part of Rural and Migrant Ministry’s gala fundraising dinner tonight following today’s annual Symposium at Temple B’Rith Kodesh in Rochester. Information is on their website.

Kelly Walker started his public radio career at WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana in 1985 and has spent some time in just about every role public broadcasting has to offer. He has spent substantive time in programming and development at KWMU in St. Louis, WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, and Troy Public Radio in Alabama before his arrival in Geneva, New York. In addition, his work has been heard on many other public radio stations as well as NPR. Kelly also produces The Sundilla Radio Hour, which airs Sundays at 1 p.m. on Finger Lakes Public Radio and is distributed to public radio stations all over the country through PRX.
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