In the modern era of today, no voice should be hidden. However, in the eras of yesterday, tomorrow, and even today, there are voices that remain obscured. These voices are not those of the mainstream. Instead, these voices are those of the tributaries of a larger issue and while the mainstream rages in and out of control, the small creeks and tributaries that feed the larger body of water become drowned.
Lynden Harris knows about the smaller creeks and tributaries and the unnoticed nooks, from where water flows and also where voices are hidden.
Harris is the director of Hidden Voices, a nonprofit organization based in Cedar Grove, whose main focus is to provide an outlet or stage for people to tell of struggles that often are hidden.
Harris moved to Cedar Grove two decades ago from Atlanta. She is the past director of the Carrboro Arts Center and it was through her work here that she established the idea that people could tell of their life, struggles, challenges and truths, through the medium of acting or media presentation. “Hidden voices helps people tell their own stories about difficult subjects,” says Harris. With about 100 volunteers, a board of directors, and her partner in Hidden Voices, Kathryn Hunter-Williams, Harris says that the dedication of this group and the project is to share with the mainstream the issues that affect others – issues that are often overlooked.
“We help people tell stories by use of digital media, the Internet, exhibits, small projects, photographs and acting,” Harris says. When the Hidden Voices organization identifies a project or subject matter, it becomes the labor of volunteers to extend effort to those whose voice will be told.
“We essentially allow the person or subject to tell us of their story and we write that into a script. Sometimes the actual people tell or act their stories on stage and other times we might have an actor that portrays a particular subject,” Harris says of how an issue becomes something for others to witness. “An example of some of our work is going into jails and prisons to tell the stories of those that live a life incarcerated. By using the vehicle of acting and performance we are able to bring out the issues that became their stories and empower them to share their lives with others,” says Harris.
According to Harris, the organization is devoted to the efforts to examine subjects that affect all of us, whether we are in the stream or sitting on the banks in observance. Harris speaks passionately about the work of her organization and she talked of the ability to change an issue by exploring the issue and delivering that to a diverse audience.
One such issue that Harris shared is that of the “School to Prison Pipeline.” Granted, there is not a community that wishes to acknowledge such a pipeline exists. However, Harris quotes that almost 80 percent of those in prison and jails are uneducated.
“We examined how our educational system and even society as a whole is set up, involuntarily, to exclude or create a pipeline from school to prison. We know there is a line between race and poverty and education, but we wanted to explore deeper into the subject and know why this is. In order to accomplish this we navigated the systemic reasons and ask all that might have a role in this unknown pipeline, what reasons dominantly contribute,” says Harris.
To conduct this exploration, Harris’ volunteers interviewed and met with educational, judicial, community and even those incarcerated to learn and understand what factors might channel a group down an unwanted path to prison. “Our work has been referenced and the Senate is currently asking for testimony regarding some of our findings,” Harris said.
Through the use of acting, scripts, media and other modes of telling the stories of those voices that are hidden, Harris describes feelings of oppression and isolation as contributing factors to why some youths involuntarily embark on a pipeline to prison. “We are connecting communities by providing testimony that is important to us all and this is all from voices that have been hidden,” says Harris.
Of the performances that serve as the backbone to how messages are delivered, Harris says that these modes of communication are powerful and that they connect many diverse populations. “We have had audience members report that their attitudes have changed from witnessing a single performance,” Harris said.
Topics that have been voiced, that were previously hidden, range from racism, to poverty, to abuse, to other hot topics that indirectly affect all of us, whether we are in the mainstream or a small flowing trickle of water.
Harris explains that the idea for this organization was to formally move challenging issues from the shadows to the stage and subsequently, into the discussions of all communities.
In describing the performances, Harris offers, “When an audience listens and comes to a performance they leave heavier with emotion and the performers will leave lighter, by getting their voice heard.”
Like most nonprofits, the Hidden Voices organization relies upon volunteers and donations to ensure its mission statements are being met. Of this organization and the work that is being performed in this community and the many communities of this area, it is important that those that have been affected by isolation and oppression, no matter the cause, be given an opportunity to have their voices heard. One such way to discover the voice that is hiding is to give that voice an opportunity to be found.
We should all hope that this informal pipeline that exists from school to prison, be one day interrupted. This interruption may well begin with voices that were once hidden, being spoken on stage.
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For more information, to contribute or to volunteer, contact hiddenvoices.org.