QJC Participants Renovate a Community Theater and Stage an Original Performance

Participants in CASES’ Queens Justice Corps (QJC) recently completed partnership projects with two community-based arts organizations: the Afrikan Poetry Theatre (APT) and Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. These projects included renovation of the APT building followed by the creation and performance of a theatrical work on the impact of racial profiling in police tactics. Both partnerships are examples of the community benefit projects regularly implemented by QJC participants, young people age 18-24 who reside in Jamaica, Queens, and the surrounding communities and who have recent involvement in the criminal justice system. In addition to facilitating community benefit projects, QJC provides education, employment, and counseling services with the goal of reducing poverty and recidivism.

From November 2013 through February 2014, QJC participants implemented a partial renovation of the APT building. In consultation with QJC staff and an advisory board of community stakeholders, participants selected the APT project because of the theater’s more than 30-year history in Jamaica. Participants helped renovate the basement of the theater to increase opportunities for the display of community artworks and to expand storage space. QJC participants additionally provided maintenance work as well as some light landscaping.

“I was very pleased by the CASES interns,” Atir Balagun, APT’s Community Affairs and Art Coordinator, said. “They did some real solid work here for us.”

APT also played host to the first performance of Can’t Get Right, a play conceived and written by QJC participants as part of the partnership with Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, which promotes theater as a way to engage social dialogue and political change. Theatre of the Oppressed NYC initially approached QJC with the idea of creating a play in response to the Trayvon Martin shooting and other instances of racial profiling. QJC participants agreed to work with Theatre to create Can’t Get Right, a series of vignettes based on their real-life experiences as targets of “stop-and-frisk” policing tactics and other types of racial profiling. For more on the creative process, please read this blog post from Katy Rubin, Founding Director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC.

Following the performance at APT, Can’t Get Right was staged at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Black Box Theatre in Manhattan. An audience of 75 attended this second performance, with many staying for the post-performance question-and-answer session, which included a forum to discuss how to best respond in a moment of racial profiling.

Prior to the performances, QJC participants rehearsed for eight weeks. QJC Director Tenaja Jordan said the novice actors worked hard to overcome reluctance to speak about personal experiences and fear of performing. “I’m very proud of the entire cast and crew and what they accomplished,” she said.

Queens Justice Corps is a program of the NYC Justice Corps overseen by the Prisoner Reentry Institute of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. This initiative is made possible through funding from the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity and the Young Men’s Initiative. Click here for more on QJC and Can’t Get Right.