This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Brooklyn Public Library Adult Learning Center. Of the five Learning Centers, Central is the flagship which also boasts the largest student population. The Central Learning Center serves over 300 students annually, with an active enrollment of 145. Our students are reading on a zero to a fifth grade level, and come to the Learning Center in the hope of improving their literacy skills and reaching specific short-term goals—reading to a child, getting a driver’s license, or passing the citizenship test, to name a few. In the current socio-political climate, the students we serve are among the most discussed and debated populations—low-income, immigrants, undocumented—however, they rarely have a voice in the larger public discourse. So what about the voices of our most vulnerable populations? To paraphrase a line from the musical Hamilton, “Who tells their story?” In the style of Anna Deveare Smith, we will create a documentary theater project using the stories of students in the Adult Learning Center. The aim of this project is two-fold: 1) To raise awareness of the illiteracy epidemic and the need for adult basic education programs and 2) To give our students an opportunity to speak about the issues that are most pressing to them.  Recently, in a staff meeting, my colleague said, “Theatre is storytelling, and storytelling is transformation.” I believe this to be true. I also believe in the power of the individual voice to affect societal change. Through the power of storytelling, we want our students to see themselves and their stories in a new light, as well as help the larger public get to know our community of learners, in a way that protects their privacy, and amplifies their voice in the public sphere. We Hold These Truths will begin with a Story Exchange Professional Development for Learning Center staff, led by Narrative 4. Author Mary Lou Kownacki wrote, “Engrave this upon your heart: there isn't anyone you couldn't love once you heard their story.” In the spirit of community building, we will invite staff from all five Learning Centers to participate in the Narrative 4 training. My hope is that the N4 collaboration will foster a deeper respect and appreciation of our respective stories. After our staff is trained, we will work with Narrative 4 to conduct a Story Exchange with students and tutors in our learning community. Next we will host a series of writing workshops, with selected groups of students and tutors, facilitated by guest writer Dave Johnson and Learning Center staff, to help craft the stories for the final performance. With the help of director Monica L. Williams, I will edit the student writing to create a 30-45 minute script. And finally, we’ll bring in four actors to rehearse and perform a staged reading of student work, open to the general public. Successful outcomes would be a “sold-out” performance in the Dweck, for an audience of students, tutors, community officials, and the general public, additional funding for the Learning Center, an increase in student enrollment and our volunteer tutor roster. Most importantly, we want our students to walk away from this program knowing that their stories and struggles have value, that their voice matters, that someone has heard what they have to say.

General Info

Describe your program idea in one sentence

A documentary-style theater performance—based on the writings of Adult Literacy students—designed to raise awareness of the adult basic education program and give voice to our student population and the issues that matter most to them.

Describe the community need you will address

In the US, more than 36 million adults cannot read, write, or do math above a third grade level. In New York City, there are over 2 million adults with low literacy skills, about 25% of the population. Illiteracy is not just a personal problem, it is a national epidemic. Research shows a correlation between low literacy skills and increased rates of poverty, higher healthcare costs, and higher rates of incarceration. Our staff, tutors, and students work diligently to combat illiteracy on a daily basis. We Hold These Truths gives us an opportunity to share the stories behind the statistics.

Target Audience

Adults
Older Adults
Team Leads

Name

Felice Belle

Location

Central Library

Is this proposal a collaboration of 2 or more branches?

No
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