Voice Identity Project allows Berkshire teens to share personal stories through the arts


PITTSFIELD -- Seventeen-year-old Kori Alston knows people his age and younger have a lot of thoughts and ideas to be shared. The problem is, they're not being heard enough, if at all, by both peers and adults.

Last year, the Great Barrington teen came up with the concept of The Voice Identity Project, a youth-driven program that would allow kids and teens to write down their own personal stories and experiences, and ultimately interpret them in a stage performance.

"The idea is that everyone has a story and every story deserves to be shared," said Alston, a rising senior at Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick.

He previously attended Monument Mountain Regional High School, where he gained self-expression experience through the school's participation in the national Poetry Out Loud competition. He credits Poetry Out Loud as his personal gateway into regularly writing and performing poetry and studying acting.

"At my age, however, I sometimes feel so much that people aren't listening to me. Also, some people my age just don't know how to share what they have to say," Alston said.

One local agency, Multicultural BRIDGE, did listen to Alston's idea, embraced it and supported it. The project officially began in November 2012.

This Thursday, Alston will present The Voice Identity Project and some of its first participants during the fourth annual Multicultural BRIDGE Cultural Competence & Community Stewardship Awards Celebration to be held at the Berkshire Museum.

"The need is high, very, very high, for programs like this," said JV Hampton-VanSant, a 23-year-old facilitator for youth programming at Multicultural BRIDGE. Members of his Real Talk teen group at Pittsfield High School are participating in The Voice Identity Project.

"Sometimes, adults don't know what they can actually provide for young people to help them, which is why this works so great -- it came from a high school student," Hampton-VanSant said. "The best way of building something around youth is having youth help build it if not building it themselves."

The process of The Voice Identity Project begins with students writing down something about themselves or anything they've experienced that stands out to them. Next, Alston guides participants toward developing their writing into a spoken word-style performance. This past year's participants, about nine students, worked on their narratives during three 3-hour sessions, and will be rehearsing this week.

"What I saw and what I've heard is that students brought up their day-to-day life struggles, which sort of echoed what they brought up in Real Talk," Hampton-VanSant said.

During the Real Talk sessions following the completion of The Voice Identity Project sessions, Hampton-VanSant observed of the students, "They just seemed lighter. I think it was good for them. There was definitely a change in the group."

"This is a tangible way for them to take ownership of their story," Alston said. "A lot of their stories were about not having control of something in their lives. Here, they're taking control of their stories through words and performance."

"I think anyone should try to come to Thursday's event or any youth event like it," he said. "I think there's a lot of negativity in the perception of this generation. Attending events like this will restore your faith in this generation."

The young man has already begun to extend and expand the process to other young people. He recently returned to the Berkshires from traveling to South Africa to work with an NGO called Nkosi's Haven. The organization offers holistic care and support for HIV/AIDS-infected mothers and their children, many who become orphans. During his visit, he conducted 20-minute workshops and also shared his poetry.

"The things the kids were saying were so beautiful and profound. It was so inspiring for me," Alston said. "People want to be heard. They want that power over their lives' situations."

To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

If you go

What: Multicultural BRIDGE's fourth annual Cultural Competence & Community Stewardship Awards Celebration, honoring state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and featuring The Voice Identity Project presented by Kori Alston and local youth.

When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, reception followed by performances and presentations from 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield.

Tickets: $15 per guest, $5 per youth. Reserve seats at info@berkshiremuseum.org or call (413) 443-7171.

Info: www.facebook.com/MulticulturalBRIDGE or (413) 394-4029.


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