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San Diego Free Press
Travelers on the Street of Dreams
by ANNA DANIELS on OCTOBER 2, 2013 · 1 COMMENT
in ACTIVISM, CITY HEIGHTS: UP CLOSE & PERSONAL, CULTURE

Once a year Teresa Gunn, artistic director and founder of Street of Dreams, stands before a full house in the City College Saville Theatre and opens the student performance with these words:

We have the highest prison population that we have ever had in the history of the country. At Street of Dreams we are not willing to put another generation of people in prison because we lack the humanity to produce a creative solution. The solution is education and community collaboration. Street of Dreams is part of the solution.

Street of Dreams has been part of that solution since its founding in 1998, when Teresa Gunn recognized that the power of story telling and arts education could provide a path out of poverty and inter-generational incarceration and addiction for young mothers who had found themselves in the juvenile justice system.

We tend to think about the juvenile justice system as the place which adjudicates juvenile delinquency cases, which it does. What is less known is that children also end up as wards of the court in dependency cases because there are allegations of child abuse or neglect. A disproportionate number of both categories of children are from the mid-city areas of San Diego, which includes City Heights.

Street of Dreams, working in conjunction with San Diego City College, Lindsay High School-Parenting Teens and Metro-Area San Diego Court and Community Schools offers high school credit classes to mothers, some as young as twelve, who have been swept up into a juvenile justice system that can do little to address the systemic causes for their presence.

When a problem is systemic it too often becomes invisible to the larger community. It may be deemed unfortunate or even wrong, but it is easy to shrug the problem off as simply the way things are. Gunn, an activist as much as educator, will not permit the acceptance that results from invisibility.

She uses a curriculum based on a "simple method called "word art" in which the creative process is used as a healing mechanism. Students are guided to view their dark past as their greatest artistic asset. They begin to transform feelings and despair and hopelessness into art works and public performance. The performance provides a forum for teen mothers who have been without a voice.

Their original creations (book of poetry, music video, performance) provide a profound emotional, informative and cathartic experience for participants and their audience. This process is essential to the healthy development of teen mothers, who have been isolated from normal social interaction."

The Street of Dreams student performance gives this year's graduating class faces and names. They are young women. They are young mothers. They are fully formed human beings with possibilities and dreams and challenges and we cannot pretend not to see them and look away. Gunn won't let us and more important, we don't want to look away. Every single student in the program since its inception has graduated from high school. That is a 100% success rate. And all of these young women have gone on to college.

Fridays's spoken concert will unwind within a familiar structure. Each young woman will speak her name, age, her hope and her challenge. She may read a piece of poetry about her experiences. If she loses her sense of composure and is drawn back into the struggles and pain of her story she will be physically protected and comforted by her classmates. These wordless spontaneous expressions of support are also an important part of the story.

Teresa Gunn understands that the key to these women breaking out of and breaking through the socially convenient stories told about them is for each one of them to be able to take control of their own evolving life narrative. Those of us in the audience become willing to question the stories we might be inclined to impose upon those young women, to put those stories aside and listen.

The separation between storyteller and listener dissolves as listeners recount the stories that they hear. Together they travel a street dreams.

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