Story by Marianne Salza
The Boch Center Shubert Theatre’s City Spotlights Leadership Program utilizes performing arts to teach Boston teenagers organization, critical thinking, and problem solving to inspire kinder, more self-aware youth.
“It’s leadership training through arts and social justice,” explained Corey Evans, Vice President and Senior Director of Education. “We have three major components: leadership training, community and personal advocacy, and job readiness skills. They have fun.”
The City Spotlight Leadership Program has partnered with the City of Boston’s Successlink initiative, which hires underserved youth at community and non-profit organizations and city agencies. The six-and-a-half-week summer work-study program employed 28 teens for 25 hours a week.
“They’re incredible,” beamed Evans. “They inspire me every day. I believe that these young people are the future leaders of Boston. They’re learning to use their voices, and that their voice matters.”
City Spotlights empowers youth, like 21-year-old, Gabriela Villalta, of Jamaica Plain, who hopes to instruct children with unique needs.
“I like this program because I want to teach kids with Down syndrome, like me, how to dance,” said Villalta. “I’m also interested in yoga. It makes me feel balanced and flexible.”
This year’s curriculum focused on dismantling stereotypes. Participants developed a workshop reflecting that theme, and presented it to 25 community centers, reaching 400 children across Boston.
“Facilitating these workshops is about learning how to use leadership in an authentic way. The teens learn classroom management and how to work with young people,” said Evans. “We do community building every day. Teens learn how to facilitate a group of their peers, lead an exercise, and take control of a situation. We also have an advocacy block, when teens research and prepare a presentation to officials at the state house.”
During specialty blocks, students learn how to collaborate and offer feedback while creating original choreography, songs, and poetry that promote self-expression. Teens performed their artistic pieces during an August 16 final showcase at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre.
Students like dancer, Mabel Rodriguez, 16, of Dorchester, performed hip hop routines with uplifting messages of self-expression. She found the creative experience interesting, and collaborating with others to be helpful and exciting.
“I hope that people understand there are still stereotypes in the world, and that we should stop sending that misinformation and show the truth,” asserted Rodriguez.
Eighteen-year-old Wyatt Phillip, of Roxbury, has taken part in City Spotlights three times, and noticed that he found himself more willing to be vulnerable this year. This summer, the incoming Tufts University freshman concentrated on encouraging and guiding his peers who were new to the program.
“I’m glad I came back. I’m genuinely changed from this program and enjoyed it. My favorite part is the final showcase because everything we worked on comes together, and it’s an opportunity for everyone to shine,” revealed Phillip, whose rhythm and blues music reflects on confidence. “Stereotypes can be anywhere – school, on your commute, within your family. Keep in mind how you treat people. Be mindful of who you are.”