What happens when you send a Dayton kid from the West side to Antioch, and he becomes a school principal in a community that is a mash-up of Mexican immigrants, little Appalachia and throw in a smattering of black kids- a Social justice themed K-8 school that’s trying to change the world.
Once again, I’m writing about a friend, who happens to be a Dayton Public Schools principal- Devon Berry at Ruskin in the Twin Towers neighborhood off Xenia Avenue. Ruskin has been graced with a community action agency- East End Community Services, headed by Jan Lepore-Jennelson- a former City of Dayton director of community services. Together- they are working at transforming a once proud working class community back into a working community.
There are new energy efficient homes being built, a new playground, programs to put x-cons back to work deconstructing homes and recycling materials- and, there is a group of kids putting on an annual play- talking about the challenges facing kids today.
It’s not an easy play to watch- but, the subject is one that we’ve been ignoring in this country for way too long: our desensitization to violence. It started with TV- how many murders, rapes, shootings, beatings do we see in prime time every night? People get shot- and still manage to keep going- the season finale of Justified has Marshall Givens taking a bullet- then going to sit and have a drink with his nemesis… yep, with a bullet in him.
The kids talked about Grand Theft Auto- a popular video game where you steal cars, buy guns, sell drugs and shoot people for money. Listening to a 13 year old explain how he picks up a hooker, takes her to a dark alley for sexual favors- pays her, then shoots her to get his money back after the “happy ending” is disconcerting to say the least.
Juxtapose that story with fairy tales, cross it with reality, and throw in references to the man behind the curtain and you start to see that these kids realize that someone is playing them when they suck the time out of their lives playing these games. Toss in the part about getting health packs, reloading the game and getting your life back- vs. what actually happened last year outside Westwood Elementary school where a young girl was shot and killed on the playground- and you start to understand why if we don’t create recreation programs- and give kids ways to interact and actually play with each other- we’re breeding our own future reality torn from the screens of these violent games.
We’ve killed off our parks and rec departments, sold our community art center, given up on our community theater, and barely cut the grass at our playgrounds- yet we still find money to put kids in jail costing us hundreds of dollars a day. We teach kids to be afraid of “sex offenders” – and live in a state of perpetual fear in the city. Still believing that these things don’t happen in the suburbs.
The most powerful parts of the play included an amazing solo by a young lady who sang like Etta James- and when the girls talked about how many times grown men had accosted them or solicited them right in their neighborhood. The audience reactions after the show included words like “powerful” and “it gave me a lot to think about” (I was interviewing people with a video camera).
Unfortunately- this amazing success by a Dayton Public School- wasn’t covered by the news media- and as of right now, there are no plans to produce it again, which is a shame. But, after watching these kids- it makes me want to take our PS3 and toss it out- and, to remember to spend more time with my girls doing things that don’t involve a screen and joystick.
The play was called “Playground (R)evolution” and I’m sorry you missed it.
Please think twice about letting your kids rot their brains playing these games for the man behind the curtain.