African American Legacy awarded funding to the Institute for Positive Living, a social service agency that provides academic support, mentoring programs and opportunities for creative expression for children and teens, primarily those living in the Lawless Gardens housing development.  Based in Chicago’s Bronzeville community, the Institute for Positive Living (IPL) uses a positive youth development approach that teaches young people to become ambassadors and leaders among their peers. By developing anti-violence content (such as books, poems and songs), students educate their peers and serve as models for positive behavior. IPL’s Voice Not Violence project was Youth Write of Passage.

The Power of the Word


Writing and performing plays with anti-violence themes gives Bronzeville youth a voice, a stage and plenty of peer-to-peer impact

Back in the day, teenagers went to a theater to see a movie or waited in front of a small screen for hours hoping to catch their favorite music video on BET or MTV. Today, they can do all of that – and much more – on handheld smartphones.

Marrice Coverson recognized the allure of multimedia, seeing that teens can control the medium. She seized on that to create Youth Write of Passage, an arts-based cultural expression program focused on giving youth a voice on the issue of violence prevention.  Coverson, the founder and executive director of the Institute for Positive Living (IPL), decided to give youth a seat at the table.  “Given that they are really into all these multimedia tools, we felt that they might be more actively involved in a program if they were involved in developing the program,” says Coverson.  With Youth Write of Passage, “These were their ideas, these were their stories and they wrote and critiqued each piece. This helped get the teens more involved in a different way,” she adds.

Youth Write of Passage participants met after school twice a week. They developed an array of skills, from writing, research and script development, to ensemble acting, movement and technical production. Throughout their weeks together, students also were mentored in goal-setting, specifically as they prepared for showcases and performances, and in new-media usage. They met deadlines for performances, they staged plays with props and costumes, and they created online videos and posts about their experience. Most importantly, they shared their creative works with other youth and adults in the community through live performances, spreading anti-violence messages in Lawless Gardens, the housing development where IPL is based.

Chimere Bias, the program director for Youth Write of Passage, says that with so much violence in Chicago, her program was a way to keep kids busy and bring them together. “It was challenging because we had students come from across the city. Initially, I was afraid to put students from different schools into one room, but it ended up being good because they didn’t know each other. They ended up becoming friends, and some even ended up going to the same colleges this fall.”


In fact, five of the Youth Write of Passage students are now attending the same college, and two are studying journalism since the program sparked their love for writing.  “I am so excited about that,” Bias says with pride.

Here’s what the Institute for Positive Living produced with support from African American Legacy

3 Ways Youth Write of Passage Made A Difference


Each year, two cohorts of 40 teenagers gathered to write original plays, poetry and essays with anti-violence themes. They improved their research, writing and performance skills by working with teaching artists twice a week.


From Black History Month poetry events to original plays such as “Decisions,” about teens making smart life choices, the program connected teens to their peers and their larger community through on-site showcases at Lawless Gardens, public rehearsals and fully staged performances.


Teens chronicled their creative process, production planning and final performances in a video blog, learning social media applications and storytelling skills along the way.

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    © Copyright 2016 African American Legacy. Website design, animation and content by Art On The Loose, Inc. Video production by Epilog Media Design Group. Original photography by Lauren Harris, Tommy Inglis and Jason Jones. Additional photos and footage courtesy of Bruce Powell, Jean-Marc Giboux and the African American Legacy grantees.


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