Tarell Alvin McCraney
What can I say about my experiences in Voices United? I am afraid all my adjectives describing the moments of triumph, the days of bravery, the bonding of diversity, still would not summon up the right spirit to give breath to what voices has meant to me; they won’t reconstruct the life long friends I’ve made, the courage I built within myself, the times that inspire me even today. Words cannot express them. Forgive my inarticulateness.
But what is louder than my words, stronger than my inability to rationalize emotion, is the truth:
Voice United, a program started almost 20 years ago, still today, is an integral part of our community, an organization devoted to educating young people about peace and inoculating them with a love of diversity and acceptance.
Can you imagine? Any place in the world that allows youth from all walks of life, with no bias to political agenda, most of the students can’t vote yet, to come into rehearsal halls and practice peace, patience, respect and acceptance of one another; Charging them to step across the line and up to the microphone to give their thoughts, loves, fears, hopes, and dreams voice. Where in this time of high drop-out rates and heavy military recruiting are we teaching our young people to be students of peace and understanding, to be leaders of acceptance and diversity? Can you imagine such a place?
If you haven’t, I invite you to go down on a Saturday to Voices rehearsal or hear a touring company show or come to the Gusman performance usually in late spring and there you will find Voices United, formerly Peace Child Miami, bringing in the future of this community and reminding them that the tomorrow they dream of is still in their hands and that together they can continue to give voice to the voiceless, light to darkness, and peace to the loveless.
I am proud to say that I was apart of Voices United, but more so I am proud to report that it continues to teach, motivate, and invigorate the youth of today. And there are no words strong enough, beautiful enough, thankful enough to show how grateful I am that it continues.
Working with Katie and Voices United throughout my teen years laid the groundwork for what would eventually become my career in theater as a Music Director and Arranger. Katie invited me to participate when I was 14 to transcribe and arrange the songs for their show. And when I was 16, Katie asked me to be the Pianist/Conductor for their 1991 production. That was one of the first times that I was put in charge of an orchestra for a musical, where I served as the musical director and conductor of a band. I have very fond memories of playing great music with great people, all for a great cause. Getting to perform in that capacity gave me the experience that would allow me to pursue my career in New York, where I am now the Music Director/Conductor of IN THE HEIGHTS, as well as the Tony-Winning Orchestrator for the show. Many thanks to Katie for her belief in a young kid who loved to play piano!
I am writing to you to first and foremost wish you a successful and prosperous 2007! I hope all is well with you and your family.
The reason for my letter is to fervently express to you with my deepest gratitude just how grateful I am that you and Peace Child (Voices United) danced into my life 18 years ago! As you may remember, I was in the 9th grade, and certainly on the brink of discovering who I was, and what my purpose would be. It gives me immense pleasure to look back on that time and to say with complete conviction that Voices United had an enormous role in shaping who I have become, and ultimately the life I lead.
Having spent the last 10 years or more in the entertainment field as a writer, producer and director – I can only imagine where I would be without the nurturing, and intensely dedicated program that you built in Voices United.
Of course, NWSA played its role, and the many years before spent in other performing arts programs… But Voices United did something for me that none of those other programs ever did – It revealed to me who I was, who I could become and what I could do to affect change in the world that I lived in. I was constantly inspired and motivated; and always on the threshold of powerful revelations about the world and different cultures. In short, I was empowered to be everything I am in this very moment.
So I wanted to take the time to say thank you! And I want to encourage you to continue on with your pursuit of the greater good of those that seek it the most – young minds, young hearts, and young souls!
I will always be grateful to you and Voices United. Thank you again for the generosity of your gift!
It was 1990; I was in 6th grade. At an orientation for Norland Middle School, where I would be attending in the Fall, my drama teacher told us about a show several of her students were in and encouraged us to purchase tickets. My mother bought the tickets and took me to see the show, City At Peace by Peace Child Miami. My life was forever changed.
I auditioned for Peace Child Miami’s 1991 show and dedicated the next 6 years of my life to the process, the friendships, and the lessons about life that Peace Child/Voices United embodied. Back then, I knew I was a part of something much greater than what I could ever do alone, but only now, looking back as an adult, do I fully comprehend the role that Voices United played in my life.
Voices United provided me with an outlet to say what was on my mind without the fear of judgment. There, I was not just some kid or teenager with naïve ideas about social change and what was happening in my world or in my own life. There, I could be Sarah, and Sarah’s ideas were important and respected and then channeled into something larger than life for all to hear. To a teenager, the idea that what you feel and have to say is important to someone, is a very powerful thing. Voices United taught me how to express myself, how to embrace and accept others, and how to work toward changing the world—or at least the small corner of it that I occupy—for the better. I did not have to be powerless. I did not have to blindly accept the prejudices and the social norms that adults/society lay before me in the name of what is truth or reality.
Most importantly, through Voices United, I found my passion. Unlike many of my VU friends, that passion was not theater or singing or dance, although I still love those too… In 1994, Jose Alvarez joined Voices United. Jose is Deaf. At first we communicated by writing back and forth. I soon learned the American Sign Language alphabet and we would spend entire Saturday rehearsals spelling to each other. As our friendship grew, Jose taught me some signs, culminating with the two of us signing a song during my final Voices United performance in 1996. Sign Language would be my life!
Since then, I have gone on to earn degrees in Deaf Education and Secondary English Education. For six years I was a teacher of the Deaf at a high school in Broward County, FL. Currently I am teaching American Sign Language as part of the foreign language department in another Broward County high school. EVERY time someone asks me how I became a teacher of the Deaf or how I learned ASL, I tell them about Voices United. I also take the lessons that I learned at VU into my classroom everyday. I know that my students think I am different from their other teachers. They often share with me and work for me in ways that their other teachers are astonished by. When those teachers ask me how I get “that kid” to do my work and not sleep in class, I just smile and say “I respect him and care about where he comes from and who he is at his core and, I listen.”
I began my career at age 10 with a program called Voices United, a non-profit arts organization for youth in Miami, FL. It not only trained me in the arts but it groomed me for the real world. Every weekend and sometimes during the week, I would show up to this rehearsal space along with kids of all colors, shapes and economical statuses. All from different communities around South Florida. A young lady, just out of her teens by the name of Kate Christie, with long curly hair tossed in a pony tail, wearing Birkenstocks holding a peace sign up to gather our attention. At the time I didn’t know or even realize what was going on. I thought I was just apart of a theater company. Only later to find out I was apart of something that was so amazing and ground breaking!!!
I was so blessed to have the opportunity to be apart of a movement. Especially having Katie Christie as a mentor and friend. VU taught me love, peace and how to be respectful to others and their differences. At the age of 13 Katie brought me and the touring company to Japan. We got to interact with Japanese kids our age, share our differences and write a show together in English and Japanese. It was one experience that I will never forget! I must say Voices United changed my life and it’s a big part of me and the young man I am becoming. I practice the principles I learned from Voices United in my daily life.
After being apart of Voices United for 6 years I relocated to Los Angeles where I landed the recurring role as Larry Beale on the Disney- Emmy nominated show Even Stevens. I had the opportunity to guest star on several shows helping to propel my success. My television credits include King of Queens, NYPD Blue, City of Angels, Boston Public, The District, Felicity, Andy Dick Show and Jett Jackson. I also appeared in movies such as Don’t Look Under the Bed, The Even
Stevens Movie, The Little Richard Story, where I played young Little Richard, David and Lisa and independents – The Gray In Between and Midsummer Nights Rave. I am presently starring in the films Suits on the Loose and Material Girls, both had theatrical release in 2006. You can rent them on DVD now.
I then got to a point where I needed a stepping stone that was going to propel me to the next level. I was also discouraged about the roles I was receiving auditions for. So my father and mentor then told me, if you don’t like the career opportunities that you are being presented with, create those opportunities. At the time I didn’t understand what they mean. Then I decided to take a writing course and I realized I had a new gift.
A couple months past and I ran into my childhood friend here in Los Angeles, Todd Segal (an amazing DP) who was also apart of Voices United. He just graduated from film school. We decided to make a film. I wrote a short that later turned into a feature and there you have it. I must say, Todd and I growing up in Voices United to later meet up in Los Angeles and produce a thought provoking film for young and older people to show us our today’s youth and the trials and tribulations they are confronted with in today’s society. Now I have a responsibility in Hollywood! Thank you Katie and Voices United!! You are and will continue be a inspiration in my life and something I will always want to be apart of.
Voices United has been a spectacular influence in my life. Prior to joining the program at the age of twelve, I was a young man in search of an identity. My home life was tough at times, and I really had no one to talk to about it. Fortunately, my mom saw a small ad in the paper for the program. I auditioned and was accepted, and within the first few minutes of my first rehearsal, I knew I was in for something different. Kids from all different walks of life, that I would never have come across normally, were now a part of my life. Hearing their stories, dealing with our problems through the arts, and spreading our message through performing made my problems seem small and manageable. I found my voice and grew in every way as an individual through being a part of Voices United. I know express myself through film, and am finishing up a documentary I directed about the rebirth of the program. I’m so thankful to have been a part of something that has given me a voice.
I am so happy that you are doing this magnificent program again and that I am back in touch with you! Voices United has had an immense impact in my life. I was scared of everything at twelve years old including my own voice. I was slowly suffocating; there was so much I wanted to say but I was so incredibly afraid of the world. Then your profound vision of teaching peace and cultural diversity through the arts changed my life forever. In Voices United I found an exceptional forum where my ideas and concerns mattered, were heard and were put into motion.
Thanks to Voice United I discovered my love for writing. I absolutely relished in helping write the show every year. I wrote several versions of my own lines and monologues for each production and kept them in a special journal. There were so many interesting kids from so many different cultural backgrounds and I was always writing feverishly; inspired by the compelling experiences shared by many of my cast mates. In college, catapulted by my experience with Voices United, I majored in playwriting with the purpose of wanting to make a difference through my writing.
Eleven years after my last performance with Voices United, I have made a career out of helping non-profit organizations, especially those offering services to children. It all started with a sensational organization that made me realize the enormous difference I could make by believing in myself. I now dedicate my life to writing press releases, articles, letters and absolutely anything positive to promote and help community based organizations in their strategic development. I took my current position with a non-profit children’s theatre because I wanted to help kids in the same way you touched hundreds of young lives.
Thank you infinitely for the magnitude of inspiration you have bestowed me with. You can count on my support of anything and everything you and Voices United need!
Words cannot express, how much you and Voices United changed my life and helped mold who I am today. Before New World, before almost everything there was Voices United. I was just a girl from Opa-locka, who didn’t know too much about the arts and social change through the arts. After I auditioned and was accepted I got to be around such talented kids. Kids who truly believed that they could change the world and eventually I started to believe that I too could change the world. My self-esteem picked up. I remember Tony Stafford, one summer, encouraged me to audition for New World ( music theater) ., and through his encouragement I auditioned and got accepted that led a whirl wind and molded me up, for who I am today. Now I am in New York living my dream of music and theater and also giving back, now I too have a cast of great teens and I’m instilling in them all of the values I learned at Voices United and stressing to them, Yes your voice means everything, you all can change the World!! I am so excited to hear that you are starting it up again..its needed, its appreciated, Katie you helped and changed so many lives by your vision. I am forever grateful and committed to your program. And yes when the show starts I plan to fly down and support. It would be great if I can bring my kids down and show them how it all began. I am truly grateful for you, and yes your message has reached as far as New York, it’s like a ripple effect! I say, and we, The cast say, Thank you.
I began with Voices United in 1990 & my life was forever changed. I had finally found a place where my voice and my opinion could be heard. I felt like I was not being judged and there were so many people from all different walks of life, but we were all alike.
I was involved with Voices United for 6 years. In that time I learned so much about myself and how to work with others. The experiences that I had with Voices United have stayed with me and helped me deal with so many things in my life.
I feel so fortunate that my kids, Kayla 12 and Brandon 4, have been given the opportunity to be involved in Voices United! I have seen such a change in my daughter since she began! Voices United is such a big part of my life and I am so happy to be able to share this with my children!
Voices United is an amazing program that has tought me alot about myself and others. I learned that i’m not alone and there are others i can relate to. Voices United is a safe place where i can express myself without fear of judgement. I love voices united!!!
I think Voices United is a program that helps kids all over the community. Do something they love, with people who have common interests with you. This program gives kids something to look forward to when it seems like everything is going wrong. You make friends who can relate to you and it feels good. It brings these kids together who maybe in school, they would never be friends with. It is an amazing program!!!!!
There is nowhere I feel more at home than anywhere I am with my Voices United Family =D
I think Voices United is a program that brings a group of people together to bring out their talents. It is a group that brings kids everyday issues to the stage so the world knows the reality of our lives. It also is a group that starts friendships that will last forever. I have made so many amazing friends that are incredible dancers, musicians, singers and actors/actresses. The talents that make us different are the ones that help put the show together. This was an amazing experience i could NEVER foget ! It has changed my life FOREVER and i will continue to share my UNFORGETTABLE experiences with everyone i know because this program is truly SPEACIAL ! I &e Voices United and everyone appart of it !!!! (:
Voices United is a program the unites us all together as a family…despite our differences, we all love each other like any other family. VOICES UNITED has many defenitions. They can vary from love to hope. But above all,VOICES UNITED means the WORLD!!!!!!
Alicia Del Aguila
Voices United helped me value friendship more, taught me about trust and honesty, and made me a better person to others and myself. This organization changes lives
In the ’90′s, I attended many of the VU shows after watching my friends’ children evolve through the months-long process of exploring issues, conceiving ideas, writing scripts, composing music, and ultimately performing. Each year, the result of a multitude of young voices left me awe-inspired and teary-eyed. I was envious that circumstance kept my older kids from participating, and that my youngest was too young. It was truly disappointing when the organization disbanded and I assumed my little one, Sarah, had lost out on this special experience. Well, ten years passed, and a blessing came our way. Sarah was among the fortunate to be involved in the rebirth of Voices United, and in doing so, a rebirth of herself. At a time when emerging teens struggle with their feelings, VU gave her a non-judgmental, loving, supportive environment to explore those feelings and express herself through words and performance. Every Saturday for five months a year, she chose to sacrifice parties, activities with friends, and family gatherings to be with her “extended” family who encouraged the best in her and who valued her contribution. Equally as important, she loved the role of supporting others, as well. Ultimately, Sarah performed with VU’s traveling troupe at the World Youth Congress in Quebec, Canada, where she stayed on to participate as a delegate. There, along with five hundred young people from every continent, they focused on empowering themselves to promote peace, reduce hunger, protect the environment, and influence policy. Next summer, Sarah plans to once again attend the Congress in Istanbul, Turkey….all thanks to her VU experience. So, as a parent, I could complain about the weekly commitment, the round-trip rides to rehearsal, etc., but I won’t. Voices United’s impact will be felt throughout my daughter’s life. It gave her a wealth of confidence, a sense of belonging, a faith in her ability to affect positive change in the world, a platform for her talents, …and oh, yeah…did I mention it simply made her HAPPY? How could a parent ever complain?
Voices United has been the program I’ve been looking for since my children were toddlers. Thank God my friend let me in on it! As a single mom, with two very bright, creative, energetic girls growing up in Miami, I had always tried to keep them involved in something – as a creative outlet, and to keep them out of trouble. We had run the gamut with dance, gymnastics, sports, you name it, and they had always lost interest before I had even gotten my money’s worth. Voices United did not cost us anything but lunch, and week after week, my kids asked to stay longer. It not only gave them somewhere to be every Saturday of the year, but it gave them something to do. I believe the difference was that they felt they had a sense of purpose. At VU they not only get to sing, dance and hang out with friends, but they also get to make a difference in the world at some level. They are carrying a message for change that they believe in, and they have a part in creating. The girls have also learned more responsibility by sharing in fund-raising and having to show up on time and be accountable to the team. It has been a fabulous experience for all of us, and I would highly recommend it to all young people who live in areas that are plagued with the “in your face realities” of urban living.
Thank you to Katie & all those who support this incredible group of kids. Not only does Voices United provide a safe place for teens to discuss what is really going on in their life, it also shows these kids that they really are one community and that they need to understand, respect & love one another regardless of who they are or where they come from.
Voices United is an extraordinary arts and education program that teaches children to embrace and celebrate our differences. It plants seeds in these young people that will germinate into forward thinking adults that care about not only their own communities, but those of the diverse friends they make from all across Miami Dade County’s physical, socio-economic, religious and racial geography. And they experience this through the beauty of artistic improvisation and creation. Kudos Voices United!