Hillside High's stage production addressing youth violence draws attention from state officials

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
Hillside High's stage production draws attention from state officials
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Hillside High School's drama department has gained attention for tackling youth violence and gun crime.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Hillside High School's drama department has gained attention for tackling youth violence and gun crime.

Now, its production has caught the eye of state education leaders.

"I don't even think it has even taken off yet," said retired Hillside High School drama teacher Wendell Tabb following a meeting with Hillside High students, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the director of Safer Schools NC.

"I'm thankful to have met with members of the Hillside High School drama program earlier today as a follow-up discussion from the State of Urgency play they produced, and I attended, in February," Truitt told ABC11. "These conversations, particularly with students, are critical to understanding what has resonated throughout the year, and how we -- as state leaders- can better serve those who face violence more than anyone ever should. Our students deserve to feel safe not only in school, but also in their communities, and we are committed to that premise. Today was an important opportunity to engage in deeper discussion, and I look forward to staying in communication with Hillside High staff and students."

The meeting at the Department of Education building comes on the heels of the superintendent traveling to Durham to see the play for herself. Following her visit, she made a request to meet with the cast at a meeting in downtown Raleigh.

"Just how music can have an effect, theater and shows and plays that we watch can also have an effect," said Hillside sophomore Taryn Melvin. "So I think our message really got across. "This play was really reaching out and it was a message to children, to lawmakers, to everyone across the state and across the nation that we need to do something. We need to be a change and there are changes to be made to the legislation and to our schools in order to have the most safe and riveting class and education that we can have."

Students left the two-and-a-half-hour meeting feeling "emboldened" and "empowered". Many students said they felt like their voices were heard, even though Truitt did not specifically commit to or adopt an actionable item.

"It shows how much we need to make a difference. And an awareness to everyone that gun violence is not OK and that treating people wrong is not OK," said senior Shayla Beulah. "We need to do a better job as a community to make it safer for the next generation."

READ MORE: More than 5,400 NC children charged with weapon-related crimes in 2022

According to statistics provided by the Durham Police Department, since May 20, there have been 20 people younger than 17 who have been shot.

Students said they were moved by the conversations that took place with their peers after each performance.

"I think this show is something that should be adopted by all the schools in the area. And everyone should perform this play because it expresses a really great message about stopping all violence," said junior Aniylah Lowe.

Just blocks away from the meeting in Raleigh, community activist Diana Powell, whose organization Justice Served NC also works to combat gun violence, commended the Durham students for getting the attention of state leaders. She also saw the production in Durham as well.

Powell shared the attitude with the students and staff that all schools in North Carolina could benefit from the effect that "A State of Urgency" is already having.

"After I saw the production, that was one of the things I was telling the staff," said Powell. "Y'all need to take this all over the state. This message needs to go worldwide. And especially seeing the young people and the emotional part; it brought truth and it brought reality. And I think we're missing a lot of that."

Tabb said he is working on a follow-up to the production.


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