Paul Griffin, the Founder and President of The Possibility Project, visited Suffolk last week to discuss his efforts and what his organization has done over the past several decades. On Wednesday night, Griffin gave a two-hour presentation in the C. Walsh Theatre, beginning at 5:30 p.m., which was open to the general public.
Griffin, a supportive advocate for the arts and stronger youth development for almost 20 years, showed an ABC News Nightline segment from 1995 when he was just a year into his project in Washington, D.C. called City at Peace. It detailed how he brought together a few dozen troubled teenagers and, in just a few months, they wrote and performed their own musical based on the real-life experiences they had endured.
All the students, although still having to go through unfortunate and sometimes tragic incidents in life, eventually became best friends. However, at first, they were unintentionally divided into various types of cliques in school based on different social aspects of life, mostly by race, interests, gender, and ethnicity. This had a significant effect on them in the beginning because, as the Nightline report showed, they immediately went straight to a separate handful of those they could relate or strongly connect to. They played games similar to ice-breakers to get the mood going, but Griffin asked them questions on issues evolving around family, violence, domestic conflict, and other potential stress inducers for high school students.
Throughout the few months that they practiced each week for the musical, the students’ lives continued as many had more growing troubles in their daily lives. The topics included students getting beat up for being gay and having AIDS, gun violence with gangs, and illegal drug use. Even though they were not close at all to begin with, the relationships amongst the group grew stronger and stronger. When one of their cast members gets shot in the leg, just a month before they were set to perform, and some of his fellow students visited him in the hospital. With every year that passed since then, the success stories are increasing at an impressive rate.
In his presentation, Griffin included statistics based on the students who participated in his organization City At Peace, which is now called The Possibility Project. About 80-90 percent of students would be considered “youth of color,” 70 to 80 percent are low-income, and more or less a quarter of them are identify as LGBT youth. Surprisingly, 80 to 90 percent of them have been hit by an adult. Also, 50 to 60 percent of young women and 20 to 30 percent of young men are victims of sexual violence. Also, 20 to 30 percent have had a friend or family member killed by gun violence.
Griffin, who started as Artistic Director for City at Peace in 1994, described The Possibility’s Project’s seven outcomes as “cross-cultural understanding, non-violent conflict resolution, leadership, community action and responsibility, positive sense of future, performing arts excellence, [and] college attainment.”
While discussing the work that the Project does, Griffin did not hesitate to mention another problem which has affected millions nationwide: foster care. Adding with the pattern of informative statistics, Griffin said that half of “foster care youth will be unemployed,” and that “60 percent will be convicted of a crime.”
“Foster care is a foreign country,” Griffin said explaining how so many of us are unaware of its impact on American society. He said that “life is upside-down for foster youth” in the sense that “what others take for granted, like love, foster youth have to create for themselves… abandonment affects trust. So it must come first, from something else.”
The event was sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Distinguished Visiting Scholars program and the Government Department. There was roughly fifty people in attendance during Griffin’s presentation.