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Buffalo school students play role in Ferry Street Corridor Project

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

In a time where there is so much racial divide across the nation, there is an effort underway in Buffalo to weave together two very different sections of the city. The Ferry Street Corridor Project is about stories of those who live on the city's East and West sides.

WBFO's Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley says some city school students are playing a major role in this effort to desegregate the community.

"We have this immense heart when it comes to things.  It is definitely our pathway out for a lot of things," said Lissette DeJesus.  DeJesus is a senior and theater major at the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts School on Masten Avenue on the city's East Side.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Stage set at BAVPA's black box theater for the performance of A Street Car Named Desire.

DeJesus refers to the power of a stage production as helping to bring communities. We caught up with her inside the school's black box theater as she rehearsed for the school's performance of A Street Car Named Desire.  

The classic-drama is one of the more difficult, adult-themed plays written by Tennessee Williams. DeJesus and Jacob Rodriguez, a junior at BAVPA and theater major,  perform a harsh, domestic violence scene between the characters Eunice and Steve.

Wednesday, December 17th the students will perform the play to kick-off the Ferry Street Corridor Project to the community.  Theater teacher Andrew Kottler is directing the play.

"They're so well rehearsed. They know the show so well. They're not too stressed about it. I'm not too stressed about it," noted Kottler.  http://youtu.be/dZeCaubmkCw

Kottler explains some of his theater students come from difficult backgrounds.

"These kids come from pretty extraordinary circumstances. All of them have their stories. They dive into this stuff. This play and other intense plays, with an understanding of the material," said Kottler. "They are wise beyond their years, and that they understand this material in a way that is difficult. How can somebody so young understand something so complex?," said Kottler.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Jacobs on the set of A Street Car Named Desire.

And it's that complexity the co-collaborators of the Ferry Street Corridor Project hope could begin to break racial divides.  

"It's the longest east-west street in the city. It runs from the Niagara River to Bailey Avenue," said Mark Goldman, Buffalo businessman and historian.  Goldman is one of the leaders of this project. Ferry Street divides to very diverse sections of the city.  

"It's now an immigrant neighborhood at Grant and Ferry. It becomes a so-called dividing point at Main and Ferry.  There's an old African American business district at Jefferson and Ferry," Goldman said. 

Using historic Ferry Street is a chance to bring those who live, work, attend churches and schools together to share community stories. 

"Cranes are great, but there's a lot more to community renewal and revitalization then cranes, and a lot of it is based on relationships, so we felt if we could  get peoples stories out. People are bond by their stories and most people realize they have the same stories no matter what color they are," said Goldman.

Goldman is partnering with Peter Dow. They believe the launching of their project, featuring the Performing Art students, is the perfect springboard to opening dialog on racial divides.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
The sign outside BAVPA promotes the show prior to this week's community event.

"I think we've got to get it out on the table and look at it.  It's not just a black issue. It's a white issue as well," Dow said.  "When we have people in our communities, treating each other the way we've seen people treat each other. It's a warning sign."

For the Performing Arts students, they're ready to help lead the way for that conversation.
"The youth performing, it's something that I get really excited about. Seeing, like the community, the young community actually coming together because usually people think that when your young and your teenager, you just want to be left alone, and it's not like that for everyone," said DeJesus. 

Some people, you know, look as theater as though they're just acting on stage. It's just a script in hand. When you bring the community together and you see that we sometimes in theater use real life situations that people can relate to, I feel that it just brings audiences and communities a lot closer," said Jacobs.