Image courtesy Richmond Peace Education Center
The Richmond Peace Education Center’s Generation Dream is a three-part event held throughout the month of February in Richmond, featuring over 100 youth participants performing in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with the aim to promote peace. RPEC is an organization designed to build inclusive and nonviolent communities through education and action. The organization offers a variety of programs, including conflict resolution workshops. Many of the youth leaders from these workshops are participants in Generation Dream.
The event features youth participants performing in a variety of ways, such as spoken-word poetry, dance performances and music pieces.
Because performances are original and often include students already engaged with RPEC, the purpose of the event is “to encourage young people to cultivate their voices” in a way that empowers them to be leaders for peace and community change, according to Adria Scharf, the executive director of RPEC.
Generation Dream began in 2006 in a small church sanctuary on the south side of Richmond. It was a community healing effort to honor a family that had passed away in Richmond, but it has expanded its mission. While the purpose of bringing the community together and promoting peace still remains, there are now three events, each with a different spirit.
The first event will be held Friday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m., at Richmond Public Library’s downtown branch, 101 E. Franklin St. The event will be homey and intimate, and past iterations of the event have attracted 200 people, says Scharf.
Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School is a new venue for the second show, to be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15. Community members who live near the middle school are encouraged to attend.
The third show is in collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University and its Common Book Program. “Just Mercy” is the book for the year, and an excerpt will be read at this show. The event often attracts many VCU students, as it will be presented at VCU’s Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St.
In 2016, the three shows had a total of over 700 attendees, compared to 400 the year before, and this year’s event is expected to be even larger. The shows are free, but donations are encouraged.
Ma'at Ahmed, a youth leader for the Richmond Peace Education Center, speaks at a vigil against gun violence on the Virginia State Capitol grounds. (Photo courtesy RPEC)
The youth participants range in age from elementary to high school age, and even some college students. Many of the participants are already active with RPEC, serving as conflict resolution leaders and leading workshops for other youth. All performers went through an audition process beforehand.
One student, who will be performing for her third year, is Mysia Perry, a 17-year-old senior at Open High School. She is eager to be performing spoken-word poetry with a piece titled “II America.”
“ 'II America' is a piece describing my frustration with today's policies in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, the portrayal of African-Americans in the media and the events following last year's election,” Perry says. She became involved with Generation Dream two years ago after hearing about it in a poetry elective at her school. She saw the event as an opportunity to get out into her community and express herself, as well as honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Richmond Peace Education Center excites me because of its dedication to creating better opportunities for youth in metro Richmond,” Perry says. “RPEC creates a safe space to develop students into responsible, contemplative adults that will solve tomorrow's problems. The program has helped me become more confident in my poetry and taught me lessons about how to solve conflict competently.”
Scharf speaks of how important it is to have Generation Dream in a city like Richmond, which can be heavily segregated. “If you look up at the stage, you see kids of many different cultural backgrounds,” she says. “It celebrates a very multicultural region.”
Perry agrees. “In this moment, we need an experience like this. The quality of production is extraordinary, and the show is incredibly inspiring. ... If you’re needing an uplift, it’s this.”