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cally from this assignment, which requires 10 hours of volunteering at the shelter. Students may balk at first, but many continue to volun- teer long after their course requirement is fulfilled. They do laundry, serve food and help as needed. Jackson expected to find the shelter depressing, but discovered that a sense of community bolsters the spirits of residents, who are permitted to stay 180 days. “They have a social life like a family,” she explains. “They come up with their own rules. They play ping-pong. They do magic tricks. And they all have different stories about how they came to be here.” Siemsen says her students’ stereotypes about homelessness — es- pecially the one that most homeless people are mentally ill — are shattered after working in the shelter. “What I have learned most from this experience and from my teacher is compassion,” says Stephanie Brazil. “Dr. Siemsen is the most compassionate person I know. She cares about the homeless, and she cares about her students as people. She wants us to grow as people. And thanks to her, we are doing just that.” Jamal Speakes Healing drama Dorsey High School drama teach- er Jamal Speakes has created a high school musical, and it’s not something you’d see from Disney. The theme reflects a real issue students face in Los Angeles — violence between blacks and Latinos. It’s gotten rave reviews from the mayor of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Times, and has been featured on CBS News. “I lost a lot of students to gang violence, and it’s really devastating to see a kid on Friday and not see that kid on Monday,” says Speakes, a United Teachers Los Angeles member. “Year after year, it was part of the environment and the culture of the neighborhood. I felt like I had to do something.” So he wrote the script for Phi’la: The Musi- cal!, a story about an African American teen- ager who moves from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and falls in love with a Latina girl at his school. It is a modern-day West Side Story with plenty of hip-hop. It’s also somewhat au- tobiographical, as Speakes moved from Phila- delphia to Los Angeles after college. Some of his friends wrote songs for Phi’la, including Lindsay Walker, daughter of Brenda Russell, songwriter for The Color Purple, and Grammy-nominated musician Mike Jackson. RIGHT: Mykell Richardson and Taylor Phillips-McKay. When the show was performed at Dorsey in 2008, city leaders took notice and kicked in some in-kind funding. The following year he opened up auditions for Phi’la citywide. Stu- dents performed at Club Nokia in Los Ange- les, and the city paid for 1,500 students to be bused in from throughout the area to see the show for free. That same cast performed in August this year at the NAACP Theatre Festi- val held at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. The show is taking a hiatus while Speakes works to develop a script for a film based on the musical, as well as an educational compo- nent tied with school workshops. The drama teacher has founded the Speakes 4 Them Foundation to pay for an after-school arts pro- gram to help students deal with social, racial and prejudice issues. “We’re focused on taking this to the next lev- ABOVE: Sharina Jackson, a CSU Chico sociology student, greets guest James Cox as he checks in to the Torres Community Shelter in Chico. Jamal Speakes United Teachers Los Angeles el,” says Speakes. “I’d like to see Hollywood Bou- levard shut down and have this premiere at the El Capitan Theatre with a bunch of kids screaming and yelling. This appeals to kids, and they listen to the message when music is involved.” Students say they are, indeed, listening. “This show relates to Los Angeles youth today, because everybody knows somebody who has lost someone, or knows someone who has gotten shot due to gang violence. It’s sad,” relates Mykell Richardson, 17, an en- semble cast member. “The message of this show is that different ethnic groups can come together and get along.” Speakes says that his cast members of Af- rican American and Latino students have be- come a family of sorts, which proves that they are more alike than different. “Kids don’t just wake up hating each oth- er,” says Speakes. “This type of behavior is learned from the older generation. I know this play isn’t an end-all, be-all when it comes to solving our problems, but hopefully it serves as a conversation starter for evoking change in our community.” DECEMBER 2010 • JANUARY 2011 | 13

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