The Freedom Project Returns

freedomprojectWhile the television plagues America with an onslaught of social injustices carried throughout the nation, we here in Rhode Island seem to have been spared viral police videos, save one, and adding names to the litany of unarmed victims struck down by law enforcement.

Why are we so different? What are we doing that can possibly be replicated in a nation that profits from human capital? Lil Rhody is like most of the country with a 250% increase in incarceration since 1980, imprisoning eight times the number of people of color as the opposite (info via the sentencing project).

For years I would attend Friday Night Live and Open Stage at Everrett Dance Theater on 3 Duncan Ave in the Providence East Side with my daughter. One particular eve I stopped at the table and saw a postcard with a young man running by a prison wall labeled “Freedom Project.” I asked Aaron Jungles, artistic director and cofounder of EverrettRI what exactly is Freedom Project, and he simply said, “Mass incarceration starting with the school to prison pipeline, but from the perspective of how it affects families here, close to home.” With my background being what it is, I had to get involved.

What this project entailed was a walk-through creative genius to put a face on local poverty, its effects on education, unfair sentencing laws, who goes to prison and the privilege of being born to homogeny, and it is not happening in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago or Cincinnati, It’s happening on Doyle Ave, America Ave and Broad Street. For two years, Aaron Jungles and the Freedom Project team worked with city police and interviewed everyone from disenfranchised juveniles to incarcerated fathers to grandmothers of the incarcerated. For approximately one year I lifted and configured 36 pound cinder blocks into metaphors for hereditary incarceration and educational obstacles. I watched stories of drug addicts and ex-convicts be origami-ed into vibrant technicolor creatures of hope. The end result was a six-week full house extended run in what we say in ol’ Rhode Island slang as “The Old Carriage House.” The show was a hit, gaining adoration from reviewers and audiences. Every night I witnessed tears as almost everyone stayed for the talk backs, relating and not relating, just to share experiences and awe of not being aware and how human The Freedom Project delivers the information.

So to answer the question, “What makes us, here in Rhode Island different from other states plagued with social injustices?” Art. Community. Connection. Family. Luck? I like to believe it’s all of the above and places like Everrett Company Stage and School is a thread of commonality strung through the fabric, helping to keep us together.

If you have not seen The Freedom Project, I suggest to make plans and buy tickets in advance. The show was sold out every night in its original run. The Freedom Project is back for a send run October 9-11 and October 16-18.

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