Youth Violence Prevention through the Theater

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On February 21st, Assistant Professor Desmond Patton gave a guest lecture to our class on community violence and resiliency among adolescent African American males in Chicago. The story of youth violence that Dr. Patton told was startling, to say the least. I used to live in Chicago and figured I knew the city pretty well. The city that I knew is one completely foreign to the city of Dr. Patton’s research.

A new play at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, entitled “How Long Will I Cry: Voices of Youth Violence,” seeks to illuminate this often unseen, yet very present, aspect of Chicago. The play is composed of true stories from young Chicagoans involved with gangs and street violence. These first-hand experiences play the dual role of not only drawing attention to the issue but also, and arguably more importantly, empowering kids in these neighborhoods. “How Long Will I Cry” can show kids that there are other options other than a life of street violence. By giving a voice to the youths who understand this problem better than anyone else, the play hopes to ignite a powerful search for a solution.

The theater is an interesting prevention medium. This form of entertainment-education has been found to be effective, particularly among adolescents. The benefits of a production like “How Long Will I Cry” includes its ability to reach many people, specifically Chicago youth, yet still maintain a feeling of intimacy. I think the dramatic forum connects with audiences on a far more emotional level than most other health education efforts, a level that potentially leads to greater learning and eventual behavior change. 
It will be interesting to see the reaction the play receives following the end of its run. I’m encouraged by this effort to curb youth violence in Chicago, and hope it inspires others to tackle the problem in similarly unique ways.