Young Voices Lifted At "Youth Resilience" Showcase

Kamini Purushothaman | July 5th, 2023

Young Voices Lifted At

Bregamos Community Theater  |  Culture & Community  |  Dance  |  Education & Youth  |  Music  |  Poetry  |  Arts & Culture  |  Ignite The Voice, Inc.  |  Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant Program  |  Creative Hearts, Inc.


Amir Glenn Jr.: Contemplative and melancholic. Kamini Purushothaman Photos.

Twelve-year-old Amir Glenn Jr. made his way onto the stage, dressed in a button-up shirt, slacks and suspenders with a black fedora. Gingerly taking a seat at the microphone, the bespectacled boy waited for his cue to start singing. Johnny Mathis’s “Misty” began to play, and Glenn’s solemn disposition transformed as his smooth voice filled the space. He delivered a rendition of “Misty” that was both contemplative and hauntingly melancholic. 

Last Friday, Glenn and seven other young artists performed at Bregamos Community Theater as part of “Youth Resilience Live,” a showcase and competition from Ignite The Voice and Creative Hearts, Inc. On the cusp of the holiday weekend, the two arts incubators came together to host the event, highlighting strength and resilience through the lens of mental health. They are led respectively by Jess Gilliam and musician Manny James.

Before the show, families filled the space, eagerly chatting in anticipation of the performances to come. In the rear of the theater, a refreshment stand housed snacks, sodas and juice boxes. The stage’s backdrop was a colorful mural depicting multiple overlapping and conjoined faces, painted by artist Masud for the theater.



Top: Jayla Anderson, Brenda Dimbo, Gabrielle Bynum (left to right). Bottom: Aiden Jordan leads the crowd in song.

The show began with Aidan Jordan, a 14-year-old who attends Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School (Co-Op). Singing “Can You Stand the Rain” by New Edition, Jordan gave a touching performance, his dulcet voice resounding through the space. 

It set a tone for the evening that was at once calming, upbeat, and deeply thoughtful. Journey Rosa, a 13-year-old attending Nathan Hale School, read a poem about Covid-19 quarantine and its after-effects called “Love in a Time of Need.” Throughout the poem, she repeated the phrase “my mind is like a no-man’s land,” underscoring the debilitating psychological consequences of the pandemic. 

Near the end of her poem, her tone shifted as she acknowledged the support her community provided her. 

“Now I can help somebody else find their way,” she said near the end of the poem, vowing to pass on the compassion she received to others in need.


Journey Rosa: “Now I can help somebody else find their way."

Friday, both guests and contestants exemplified that uplifting sentiment. During the show, audience members showed their support with affirmations and applause, not just at the end of each performance, but during strong moments, including after someone hit a high note or performed a challenging spin. The performers encouraged each other too, cheering from their seats or standing to dance along to the music.

Mental health segments also came throughout the show, presented by Ignite The Voice members and alumni Gabrielle Bynum, Brenda Dimbo, and Jayla Anderson. During them, the three provided an overview of various mental illnesses, urged the audience to be aware of the stigmas associated with mental illnesses, and highlighted the importance of intersectionality in the context of mental health. 

Suggesting resources for mental health education, they gestured to a counter near the theater’s entrance, where sheets printed with a “Wellness Wheel” lay. The wheel listed different elements that make up one’s overall wellness, such as physical wellbeing, home environment, spirituality and finances. They also promoted the CT BIPOC Mental Health & Wellness Initiative, which provides forums to discuss both the pandemic’s effects and anti-Black racial trauma. 

Listing examples of healthy coping mechanisms, they mentioned creative self expression, which was on full display throughout the night.



Top: Dreaded MC (a.k.a. Marshall Cruz). Bottom: The group. 

Dakarai Langley, a recent graduate of Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School who is headed to Co-Op, performed a lyrical dance entitled “There’s Nothing Wrong With You,” choreographed by Nikki Claxton. Energetically twirling, jumping, and spinning, he danced both on the stage and in front of it. 

Deshawn Jordan, a 13-year-old attending Hill Regional Career High School, poignantly sang “Jealous” by Labrinth. Audience-members listened in awe, whispering to each other in hushed tones of reverence. 

Roc’Kiya Stanley, age 10, who attends Amistad Academy, sang “If I Ain’t Got You,” by Alicia Keyes, her heartfelt performance stirring listeners. When 11-year-old Patricia Ann Gardner sang “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo, the audience joined in, clapping and singing along to the empowering lyrics while reassuring the shy performer. 


“Ashton has a special request—please close your eyes.” 

Ashton Flake, a 5-year-old, gave his first piano performance in front of an audience. When host Dreaded MC inquired about how long he had been playing the instrument, he responded timidly, “since I was 3.” In a thoughtful effort to ease his nerves about performing, Dreaded MC told the audience, “Ashton has a special request—please close your eyes.” 

After the eight performances, five judges—artist Candyce Captdamarshun John, Sharmont Influence-Little, Anderson, Ignite the Voice Co-Founder Rikkia Ben Yehudah, and R&B artist Ebony Bowden-Moore (also known by her stage name Ebxny)— left their seats to view the paintings on display at the back of the theater. 

In the flier for the competition, 12-year-old Aurora Jones described her painting, Midnight Neighborhood, as inspired by the majesty of nature. “I took a photo from my window one night because the sky was so beautiful and so peaceful. So that’s what I painted,” she wrote.   



Top: Deshawn Jordan. Bottom: Patricia Ann Gardner.

That attention to detail also surfaced in Gianna Verab’s Nicki Beach and 8-year-old Sakine Alp’s Uyghur Girl, which she described as “smiling and happy,” her portrayal joyful in stark contrast to the suffering often associated with the Uyghur identity. 

After deliberating, the judges reached their verdict, and Aurora Jones won the painting competition with Midnight Neighborhood. Each painting was available to purchase for $30, and the funds went directly to the child who painted the work.

Then the judges announced the winning performers. Jordan came in third place for his touching performance. “Aiden, this not all for me, man,” he said as he stood on the stage, looking out at his friend and fellow contestant. “This for you, too.” 

Stanley came in second place, and in the spirit of camaraderie and gratitude, thanked her family for supporting her.

Langley took first place for his passionate performance and experimental choreography. After thanking his friends and family, he returned to the showcase’s theme of mental health, leaving the audience with a piece of advice:

“For all of you adults out there,” he began. “If you are still struggling, just know you can always talk to [the children] like you tell them to talk to you … You are not alone.”