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Spirit Awakening Celebrates 20 years of service with poetry reading
By Amen Oyiboke, Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2015
Actress Debra Wilson reads a personal poem from a juvenile detainee during an interpretative dance performance. (Amen Oyiboke/LA Sentinel)

Actress Debra Wilson reads a personal poem from a juvenile detainee during an interpretative dance performance. (Amen Oyiboke/LA Sentinel)

The Spirit Awakening Foundation celebrated 20 years of serving youth in the Juvenile Justice System Dec. 5 at USC’s Bovard Auditorium with the Voices of the Unheard/Gratitude.

“The importance of what we do is to continue to grow by showing awareness of the issues juvenile justice youth face. We do profound work,” said Akuyoe Graham, founder of Spirit Awakening.

Actress Akuyoe Graham founded Spirit Awakening Foundation in 1992.  Graham believes organizations like Spirit Awaken will although the youth to grow into the “capable and promising young people they need to be.”

In the dimmed Bovard Auditorium, an intimate audience watched performers act out the touching letters and poems written by current or former child detainees, expressing their hopes for change and society transformation.

Guest performers and readers included activist Aqeela Sherrills, paraplegic Olympic Gold medalist Stephani Victor, actress Frances Fisher, singer Joie-May Silvers, actress Tensie Taylor, actress/comedian Debra Wilson and poet India Radfar.

“Programs like ours you see very little funding going in to [them],” said Graham. “Support is essential to making change and that’s what we have to put out to the general [public].”

The show highlighted words expressed by the youth in the juvenile justice system that are trying to transform their negative situations through self-exploration in poetry and spiritual guidance.

 Akuyoe Graham and actress Debra Wilson kick off the poetry show with some background on the Spirit Awakening Foundation. (Amen Oyiboke/LA Sentinel)

Akuyoe Graham and actress Debra Wilson kick off the poetry show with some background on the Spirit Awakening Foundation. (Amen Oyiboke/LA Sentinel)

Through dance interpretations and original work of the incarcerated children, attendees got to listen to the true stories of the youth face life-long terms in juvenile hall that wrote through Spirit Awakenings “Writes of Passage” curriculum.

The curriculum uses writing exercises, meditation, dramatic improvisation and mentoring, which helps participants gain access to and insights about the “author” of their life story and empowers them to change that story’s voice from a negative to positive.

“We live in a country that says justice is serve without conscious and blindly and it doesn’t take into account the historical traumas- sexual, physical and emotional- that young people go through,” said activist Aqeela Sherrills. “These are the voices of the unheard and they have to be heard so we can shift public perception and public policies on how we address the youth in the juvenile system.”

A lot of the youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced generational patterns of abuse, violence and neglect. Most youth detainees from ages 16 to 17 constitute for 50% of arrests under the age of 18, according to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice Department.

“There are deep wounds that haven’t completely healed. Some adults are so wounded that they cannot hear the solutions to the youth,” Sherrills said.

Beyond the performance set for that day, Spirit Awaken also provides bare necessities needed for job interviews such as interview clothes, books or even money for gas.

“Programs in the community have to address the issues of the youth that come to them. They cannot overlook the needs of next generation,” said Graham.

To learn more about Spirit Awakening visit www.spiritawakening.org

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