urgent inc._web.jpgThe Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Overtown housed a showcase of young talent on May 6 as the Urgent Inc.’s Rites of Passage Youth Empowerment Academy, a program designed for the promotion of positive development and transition for adolescent girls into adulthood, presented the original youth production She Kept the Bra On.

Written by Urgent Inc. Vice President Saliha Nelson, the play is a collaboration of lessons learned by students who participate in the Rites of Passage program from schools such as Booker T. Washington, Miami Edison, South Miami, Miami Jackson and Miami Central High Schools, as well as William Turner Technical School.

Urgent Inc., is an Overtown-based non-profit organization whose mission for the past 15 years has been the empowerment and revitalization of urban communities.

She Kept the Bra On, which featured unique monologues by spoken word artist such as Alexis Caputo, choreography and a performance by local rapper Via Renay– whose original song titled after the play energized the audience–highlights real-life issues plaguing young women such as self-esteem, individuality, sexual abuse and crime.

“I wanted to create a venue to start the dialogue between the [Rites of Passage] girls, their parents, their friends, the community and those in power to make social change,” Nelson said. “As a playwright, actress and play director, I am honored to share my voice through these productions. Ultimately we want to empower girls to see themselves as change agents in their own lives and within their communities.” 

Urgent Inc. Program Coordinator Emily Gunter said, “The youth of today have developed their own rites of passage without the wisdom and experience of the elders in the community. The youth's rites of passage include getting pregnant, smoking, drugs, alcohol consumption, illegal driving and gang violence to prove their courage.” She added, ”This type of misguided enthusiasm must stop now. We, the elders in the rites of passage programs, help the youth to discover a deeper "yes" inside of themselves for peace, compassion, education and a respect for the life.”

Gunter explained that the theatrical performance was the medium for the girls to experience the content of the production—domestic violence, teen dating violence, child abuse, advocacy for Teen Reproductive Health Rights and youth violence. “These discussions have been taboo for too long in our community and our girls are falling through the cracks,” said Gunter.

The event was also used to showcase artwork created by Rites of Passage girls through a partnership with The Museum of Contemporary Art’s Women on the Rise Program.

Women on the Rise representative, Jillian Hernandez said that her organization—a gender-specific outreach program that presents the work of contemporary women artists to engage teenage girls in dialogues about body image, relationships and culture—has been partnered with Urgent Inc. for several years.

“We do outreach work with at-risk teenaged girls from the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative, Cope Center North and the residential drug treatment center and teach them about gender, race, culture, and identity,” said Hernandez. “We engage them in art projects that are inspired by women artists such as Lorna Simpson, and Anna Gaskell.”

The event, sponsored by Miami Dade-County, The City of Miami — whose District 5 Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II was in attendance — The Children’s Trust and Women’s Fund of Miami, also included a youth focused Health and Wellness Fair, including healthy snacks, massages and resource information for pregnancy issues, sexually transmitted disease prevention and exercising.

“It is time to wake up and embrace our girls with love and compassion instead of denial and judgment,” added Nelson. “Our girls have been victims too long.  This is not just our community's problem; it is everybody's problem and responsibility.”

Brandyss Howard may be reached at Brandyss@msn.com