Taking the 'school-to-prison pipeline' to the stage

Anna Deavere Smith brings criminal injustice to the stage

Linda Cliatt-Wayman has the daunting task of being the principal at Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia. Nearly forty percent of her students have special needs, many of them are reading below their grade level in addition to almost all of them are people of coloring whose families have been affected by poverty or incarceration.

“They can’t read, they can’t follow directions. Who’s gonna give them a job?” says an exasperated Wayman played by actress Anna Deavere Smith within the off-Broadway one-woman play, Notes coming from the Field. “which’s why they turn to crime.”

Despite those obstacles, Wayman can be passionate about teaching her students to read in addition to exposing them to life beyond a prison cell. “You can’t have a life if you don’t inspire or desire for anything.”

Wayman can be one of 17 people Smith profiles during the two-hour performance (which ends its run in brand-new York City This kind of weekend). Smith said she was inspired to do the project when she first heard about the “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which poor minority students are disciplined more harshly than white students in addition to are more likely to end up in prison at an early age for minor offenses.

“the idea all clicked,” said Smith in an interview with sy88pgw. “I was like ‘Yeah, middle class kids get mischief, our kids get pathologized in addition to criminalized.”

Related: What about the black working class?

Smith seamlessly morphs into her interview subjects, which include a formerly incarcerated Native American man, a Latina mother in addition to civil rights activist in addition to Congressman John Lewis. She began working on the project in 2013 in addition to since then, has conducted 250 interviews across the country about education, incarceration in addition to a resurgent civil rights movement which has been reignited by videos of black Americans being killed or abused by police.

According to data coming from the U.S. Department of Education, black preschool students are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white preschool students. Black students coming from kindergarten through twelfth grade are nearly four times more likely than their white peers to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions. As adults, black in addition to Latino men represent 59% of the 1.6 million men in U.S. prisons.

“the idea’s sort of unfair to blame schools in addition to teachers because the idea’s actually an outgrowth of what the nature of poverty can be in America at This kind of point,” Smith said.

Throughout the show Smith weaves in video clips, including one of a black high school student in South Carolina who was violently dragged out of her classroom by a school officer in 2015.

anna deavere smith notes coming from the field niya kenny
Anna Deavere Smith portraying Niya Kenny in her one-woman play in brand-new York.

On stage Smith personified Niya Kenny, a classmate who shot the at This kind of point viral video with her phone. Kenny said she felt compelled to record what she was seeing in order to protect her classmate. “How can you mind your business?” Kenny told Smith. “which’s something you have to make your business.”

Including the stories of women in addition to girls was also important, Smith said.

“I understand which we are concerned about the vulnerability of boys in addition to men, however many of our girls at This kind of point are also very, very vulnerable,” she said.

According to data coming from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any various other race or ethnicity. In 2014, 54% of the women in prison within the United States were black or Latina.

Related: Civil rights groups biggest fears about a President Trump

Under President Obama, mass incarceration in addition to school discipline gained the attention of policy makers, however activists worry which any progress made on those issues will be severely curtailed under President Donald Trump. In 2014, the Obama administration announced a clemency initiative which could reduce or end the prison sentences for hundreds of non-violent, low level offenders. however which, among various other initiatives, are at risk of being overturned once Trump takes office.

In addition, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for secretary of education, has been criticized for supporting Detroit’s low performing charter schools. In her monologue as public school principal Wayman, Smith bemoans how “the for-profits are taking over, the charters are taking over.” In Smith’s portrayal, Wayman can be suspicious of how charter schools select only certain students for admission in addition to not students like hers who may have special needs.

To help inspire her own students, Wayman organizes bus tours to college campuses. For Wayman, if she can inspire “just one kid” to go to college in addition to stay out of prison, the idea’s a success.

While Smith said she can’t predict what the next administration will do, she remains hopeful. “We’re going to use faith, in all kinds of faith, to get where we need to go,” she said. “I believe within the dignity of struggle. I’m interested in struggle in addition to what we learn coming from the idea.”

sy88pgw (brand-new York) First published December 16, 2016: 2:50 PM ET

Taking the 'school-to-prison pipeline' to the stage

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