Growing up in Bushwick in the early 1990s, Sergio Barriera had two goals.
“I thought if I could get out of Bushwick without going to jail or being killed, then I’m good,” Barriera recalled. “We were kids with very low means, and there was a certain lifestyle that we thought was normal.”
In 1996, he joined his three best friends, other Bushwick youth, and a local prevention educator named Francis Blacklock to form RiseBoro’s My Voice Theatre (MVT), an issue-based youth theatre company that would center the voices and stories of young artists from low- and moderate-income households, teaching them to write and perform stories inspired by their own lives.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “Being a part of the program just expanded our reach, our insight into the real world and real issues that affected people on a daily basis, and it opened up my eyes personally to what life was really about and what to strive for.”
“Being a part of the program just expanded our reach, our insight into the real world and real issues that affected people on a daily basis, and it opened up my eyes personally to what life was really about and what to strive for.”Sergio Barriera
More than twenty-five years later, MVT has become more than a theatre company—it’s a safe, supportive space for young people to unpack their stories, express ideas, and break codes of silence within their communities and cultures. In regular meetings, members study improvisation, projection, speech, stage direction, motivation, character development, and performance. At the same time, through journaling, introspection, and exploration, they unpack the underlying factors that contribute to issues like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-harm, substance abuse, maladaptive behaviors, incarceration, and suicide. Hundreds of young people from Bushwick and surrounding neighborhoods have found family, community, and creative support at MVT.
“Not only was it a chance to act and do what I like, but we grew into a family,” said alumna Liz Aponte. “A lot of kids who may have this artistic ability or this passion, if they don’t have the support or if they don’t have someone kind of leading the way and saying you can do it, then they will never do it.”
As MVT prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary on Saturday, May 14—the celebration was postponed last year due to COVID-19—several former members reflected on how the program helped them grow creatively and personally.
“It taught me discipline, it taught me the power of the arts, it taught me to go after my dreams,” said alumna Janinah Rosario. “My Voice Theatre is priceless, and I think that if it could go for another 50, 60 years, it would be a blessing to the community and to whatever future members get to be a part of it.”
My Voice Theatre is partially funded through donor support. To ensure that young artists in Brooklyn have access to its life-changing programming, please consider making a gift today.
My Voice Theatre has two components—a six-week summer intensive and an after-school program that meets twice weekly from September through June. To join MVT or for more information, contact Francis Blacklock at [email protected].