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Wednesday, September 14th, 2016  |  VIEW EMAIL

It was an unexpected introduction. I was attending the first Summit on Sexual Violence in Conflict in London, it was 2014. I had spent most of my time with my hosts, Nobel Women’s Initiative. It was an extremely intense time, where the extent of this global epidemic was expressed in vivid and unforgettable ways. Governments were urged to make direct changes to how they handle this problem, and there was an open floor of artists and activists all sharing powerful displays of work and bringing the issue to life. I wandered the floor, not sure where I would stop next, and as I turned into a small performance space, there they were: American girls, 18, 19, 20 years old, performing a piece.

The piece was about girls in the Congo, not American girls, it was about girls they recognized as being just like them, but not receiving the same opportunities and protections. One girl delivered a powerful piece of spoken word. And I wept. Her palpable passion, her delivery, not to mention the poignancy of her words left me deeply affected. I had never quite seen this before. American girls acknowledging their position on the global stage and their responsibility to bring focus to those who may not be able to draw focus to themselves. I had to get to know them.

The group was rightly called Girl Be Heard, and they were based in NYC. They focused on various issues surrounding girls and women in the US and globally, and often travelled to various countries to perform pieces that gave voice to these concerns. They created their own pieces, and performed them, as a collective of young girls and women. I was an immediate fan.

This organization, led by Jessica Morris, has truly created an amazing space for young women to not only nurture their global citizenship, but to garner the ability to speak to the issues that affect girls and women with power and authority.

At my play, Eclipsed, last year, I met another group from Girl Be Heard, one young lady shared with me how she had suffered a lot from bullying in her young life (sixteen!) and at one time contemplated suicide. She is now an anti-bullying advocate and encouraged me to bring any young girls I know to join and be encouraged in this area, to receive mentorship and support. I was amazed that this young girl was already giving back, an advocate and an activist, she was already creating safe spaces for others and serving as a mentor and a voice.

That is what is so special about Girl Be Heard, it makes sure no young girls are left behind. It nurtures leadership. It teaches young girls of their power, of their worth and gives them a community that enables them to nurture their own potential.

I am thrilled to introduce them to you this month. Do take the time to get to know them, connect young girls and women to them, catch one of their performances, you will be so glad you did. Organizations like these are our way forward, they steward the greatness of our girls across the globe and remind us to do the same.

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It is no coincidence that when Danai and I first met in London during the summer of 2014, Girl Be Heard was performing at a conference to stop rape in conflict zones. (Yup, Girl Be Heard has a show on nearly every issue impacting girls—from bullying and body image to the most devastating human rights issues such as forced child marriage and sex trafficking.) Ever since then, Danai has been an inspiring and beloved member of our Girl Be Heard family. As an actor, playwright, and activist who uses art to raise awareness about social justice issues, she is a stunning example and guiding light for young girls everywhere, especially those in our Girl Be Heard community.

My Girl Be Heard journey dates back to 2009 when I was moonlighting as a cabaret singer, and working to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa by day. I was blessed to meet a cutting-edge, theatre director Ashley Marinaccio, at the Estrogenius Theatre Festival in New York City. Together we sacrificed everything and volunteered for years (working countless other jobs) to create the nonprofit theatre company, Girl Be Heard, which has since touched the lives of young women across the globe. We have toured seven countries with our original shows—all written and performed by our girls—and brought our girl empowerment programs into 12 NYC schools, refugee camps, and domestic violence shelters, worldwide.

Girl Be Heard is a movement that brings together storytelling, theatre, civil rights, feminism, and peace-building. I have the honor, each and every day, to put miracle grow on the talents of young women. Since artists are some of the most exploited, overworked professionals in our country, economic empowerment is central to our work. Girl Be Heard employs countless young female artists (as young as 15), every year, who share their stories via street theatre and on stage.

I invite you to join our movement to empower girls around the world. We are honoring Danai with Girl Be Heard’s highest honor, our Fairy Godmother Award, on October 19, in New York City. Hope to see you at this Cinderella evening of live theatre and a dance party you will not want to miss.

Welcome to the Girl Be Heard family!


 
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#GBHSayHerName

At Girl Be Heard, the mission is always to honor and amplify the voices of young women, who all too often are silenced. Through theatre-making—practices shaped by empathy, community-building, and critical thinking—our girls tackle their own personal struggles and social justice issues that affect girls and women all around the world.

Girl Be Heard thrives at the intersection of arts and advocacy. Most recently, Girl Be Heard embarked on a new project, #GBHSayHerName, in solidarity with the African-American Policy Forum’s #SayHerName campaign. Our youth debuted new work on the steps of New York City Hall on July 13, 2016 to commemorate the death of Sandra Bland and the four other black women who lost their lives in police custody in July of 2015. Girl Be Heard used spoken word, music, and live storytelling (as always) to honor and shine light on these women's lives, bridging art and activism in an effort to make visible these civic injustices and open up community dialogue.

Research, original writing, theatrical devising and meeting with community advocates is what gives Girl Be Heard productions their depth and weight. #GBHSayHerName was a transformative experience for the eleven young women who devised the show, and their audiences, site of fusion for the girls as artists and advocates.  

Throughout the day’s commemoration, the performance collective shared their stories, engaged with press, bystanders, and audience members, and even handed out dozens of bracelets that the girls had made by hand. After all, in the spirit of the Girl Be Heard philosophy—if a girl can change her own life, she can change the lives of girls everywhere—changing the mind of even one person, touching the heart of even one audience member, is worthwhile.

Girl Be Heard’s #SayHerName was featured on PIX11 and Women’s eNews, and it is the young women’s hope that they can continue to speak out against police brutality and violence against women, both locally and globally.

Certainly, Girl Be Heard’s work never stops; in addition to the possible continuation or development of #GBHSayHerName, the company is preparing for its 2017 mainstage production, Blurred Lines. This season, Girl Be Heard’s largest show of the year tackles issues of sexual assault, rape culture, and consent. Blurred Lines is a performance and conversation, one that draws attention to the profound impact of rape in our society and challenges audiences to reflect on the roles we all play in a culture that promotes silence and blurs the lines of consent. By taking the shame out of talking about sex and sexual assault, Blurred Lines inspires healing through storytelling and encourages audiences to join us in the movement to end the cycle of violence, from inside the home to college campuses and beyond.

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Girl Be Heard, girlbeheard.org, is an NYC-based non-profit theatre collective and educational program that honors, develops and amplifies the voices of young women (ages 12-21). Founded in 2008, Girl Be Heard is one of the nation’s top performing arts organizations that engages audiences, locally and globally, to talk about and address gender inequity. Girl Be Heard has performed at the White House, TED Conferences, and the United Nations, and has been commissioned by the U.S. State Department to perform for ambassadors, elected officials, artists, activists, students, refugees, and countless other community members in seven countries.

The organization’s “Girl Power” workshops, after-school programming, global performances, and youth-led, social justice movement empowers young women to become brave, socially conscious leaders. Girl Be Heard youth come from all over the tri-state area. Through their individual and collective talents, nurtured by Girl Be Heard staff, they explore and tackle complex issues (everything from bullying to sex trafficking) affecting girls around the world.

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Meet Bleu

Bleu Santiago is an “artivist, teaching artist, and sometimes-social media-ist” with Girl Be Heard. She not only auditioned for and completed Sunday Workshops—Girl Be Heard’s original theatre program, which provides a welcoming space for girls from all over NYC to come together and grow as both artists and activists—but also became a part of the collective’s touring company, which travels nationally and internationally to connect Girl Be Heard members with other communities and share their work as part of a global movement. 

She has also had the opportunity to do outreach work as both a performer and a teaching artist in the company’s education program, where artistic skills (improv, stepping, spoken word, dancing, etc.) are used to educate girls on issues affecting other girls around the world and inspire them as artists and leaders. She has also gone overseas to Geneva and Trinidad & Tobago to continue her outreach as part of the Girl Be Heard collective. Bleu is excited to start her second year as a TA and continue to lend a hand in the empowerment of girls.

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 ONE and Restless Development #StandWithEva in solidarity, helping to spread her message and inspire other young people to turn the promises made in the Global Goals into real action that changes lives. 

YES: Eva’s voice is being heard!

Eva is a 15 year old girl in Tanzania. She and her classmates at Mlowa school have big ambitions for their future, but without access to basic things like clean water it’s hard for them to stay in school and achieve them. This is particularly challenging for girls like Eva, who in the developing world are often denied equal access to education and are hit hardest by the effects of extreme poverty. In 2014, these young people wrote to their leaders asking for clean water at their school.

More than 124,000 people have signed Eva’s petition—click here to add your name—and it’s getting some big results. 

In late February, local government officials signed Eva’s petition at a community event in Malinzanga! This is a huge step towards all of her local leaders listening and responding to her and the community. Eva and her classmates are one step closer to making sure leaders keep their promise to deliver clean water.

Eva’s goal is to get members of Parliament and the Tanzanian president to respond. Will you take action and let the Tanzanian government know that you stand in solidarity with Eva? Ask them to lead by example and make sure Eva, and young girls like her, can stay in school by investing in clean water and essential services in her community. #StandWithEva  

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