Changing lives through the arts - Parkour group seeks to continue empowering inner-city youth
Akeem Hendricks as a young man had a promising life ahead of him. The crime that took his life seemed particularly senseless and has left members of the Run Free Project reeling from his untimely passing.
Hendricks also affectionately known as 'Squidley', was one of the standout young men involved in the two-year-long staging of the project. He was also seen as one of the most promising youngsters and had enrolled at Excelsior Community College with the intent to attend the institution despite the lack of financial resources.
In order to reduce levels of crime and violence, the factors that make people more desperate must be addressed. The Run Free Project is a community arts project that uses the aesthetics and philosophies of Parkour (a style of free-running), along with physical theatre, dialogue and music to capture the stories of these young men living in Parade Gardens, Kingston.
Creating a platform, the Run Free Project gives these young men, aged 15-21, the opportunity to creatively voice the issues they face, their personalities and relationships, their lives, and their challenges.
Hendricks was the young man during the production and filming of the project who told the story of another participant Shamore Grant (Chaddie), who was also killed. Over the next year, his story will be added to the project with someone else telling his story.
Recently, a preview of the 'Run Free' project's work in progress was staged for community members in Parade Gardens and surrounding communities. More than 20 secondary-school boys from across the Parade Gardens community including Hendricks were introduced to the core parkour values of critical thinking, self-discipline, determination, and teamwork.
They explored what it is to overcome the physical, mental, and emotional obstacles encountered in the process of initiation into the world of manhood. They also accepted the challenge to take some risks, be creative and create some brilliant theatre.
Headed by the British Council, Manifesto Jamaica and National Theatre of Scotland, the Run Free Project explores the challenges and obstacles faced by these youth growing up in an age of unprecedented change. Run Free has combined theatre, storytelling, and the discipline of parkour into a theatrical production.
According to Morland Wilson, programme manager British Council Jamaica, persons in the communities were unaware of the strides that these young men were making and they wanted to highlight the significant changes in their behaviour to them.
"Many persons turned up, but the parents of some of the young men did not come out. However, the youngsters were pleased to see themselves on television. It's as if they became movie stars in and of itself. Members of the community were also surprised at the accomplishments of the youngsters," Wilson said.
Wilson stated that it was important to raise awareness of the programme in order to eliminate tragedies such as Hendricks and Grant. "We want to remove the barriers through art. These young men have creativity and talent. Many of the persons in the community didn't know the programme had so much substance and had generated such meaningful impact," he said.
World class standards
Lesley-Ann Welsh of Manifesto Jamaica said the enthusiasm of the participants has motivated the team to continue working on developing the production into world class standards. "During the summer months we intend to polish the piece for a home audience. This is truly concrete evidence of Parkour and the accomplishments of these young men," Welsh said.
Later this year, some of the young men will participate in a 'Home and Away' programme where they will visit the United Kingdom and perform their debut presentation. With two documentary trailers already in place to create an awareness of the production, persons in the UK are already looking forward to it.