MIAMI – April Yvette Thompson spent time working at the Belafonte Tacolcy Center as a young girl.
On Wednesday morning, she returned as an accomplished actress currently starring in the one-woman hit play, Liberty City, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. The play ends on Sunday, March 1.
After being interviewed by local TV reporter Jim Berry, Thompson spent time with five young people currently enrolled in the center’s F.A.S.T. (Family Assistance for Suspension and Termination) program, which provides a constructive alternative to students who have been suspended from school.
The program’s coordinator, Kraig Lynch, said the students who find themselves in the program are smart, but have made the wrong decisions.
Thompson spoke to the youth about decision-making and how understanding their strengths can help them make better choices.
In the play, Thompson portrays several characters through whose voices the story of life in Liberty City emerges.
Thompson graciously answered several of Berry’s questions in character, as the group of students stood nearby watching.
Mindful that even brief encounters can be life-altering, Thompson spoke to the youth off camera and gave the group an assignment to help them tap into what’s right about their lives.
The group of four boys and one girl spoke to Thompson candidly about what causes them to fight, the primary reason they were suspended from school. After listening to their reasons for becoming involved in physical altercations, Thompson suggested they try a different approach.
“I want you to write down 100 things that you’re proud of. It’s hard, and you don’t stop writing until you have the 100 things,” Thompson said of a strategy she uses herself because actresses often experience rejection.
“When somebody makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s like a hit. You kind of fall down and you want to get back up. That cushion is that 100 things. And sometimes you miss them if you don’t keep track of them,” she said.
In her discussion with the youth, Thompson sought to illustrate for them that where a person comes from does not determine where they go.
“I grew up right down the street, on food stamps, on welfare,” said Thompson, acknowledging that she was involved in her share of fights as a youth.
The fights she encountered, however, were actually beatings she endured from neighborhood kids who accused her of acting white because she spoke well and attended a private school miles away.
Thompson said she knew the drug dealers in her community by name. Determined to secure a different outcome for his daughter,
Thompson’s father did what was necessary to enroll his daughter at the prestigious Ransom Everglades School.
“I took two buses to Coconut Grove to go to school…where people had Mercedes and they were all rich and they went to Europe,” she said.
While her experience at Ransom undoubtedly helped to prepare her for the success she is currently enjoying, her daily encounters at the school and when she returned to her Liberty City neighborhood after school were difficult.
“At the end of the day I’d go get on the bus, and I would watch my friends drive by in their very expensive cars, and it was humiliating. And then I’d get off the bus and all the kids at Allapattah would be waiting to beat me up because I talked like a little white girl,” Thompson told the group.
Ebony Jean Louis, 16, said she appreciated Thompson’s advice, but added, “I don’t think I’ll make it to 100 [items on the list] because I don’t sit down and think things like that.”
Louis said she was suspended for fighting, and that the suspension (her first) will be her last.
Keon Bailey, 15, said the fight that resulted in his suspension will also be his last. Waxing philosophical, Bailey said “everything happens for a reason,” and that, while he regrets the fight, he appreciates that it led to his opportunity to meet Thompson.
Bailey said that not only does he plan to make the list of 100 things that Thompson advocated, but also that he plans to apologize to the person with whom he fought when he returns to school.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. April Yvette Thompson
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Liberty City, the play.
WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.
WHEN: Currently playing through March 1.
COST: Tickets start at $40. Group rates are available.
CONTACT: Arshtcenter.org or call 305-949-6722.