7th annual Peace Conference starts Saturday
By Elizabeth Sheeran
Somerville youth have something to say. Teen Empowerment will kick off its seventh annual Peace Conference with a show at the Somerville Theatre this Saturday, April 6, launching what this year will be a “Peace Month” of youth-focused activities in Somerville.
Saturday’s “Late Night with Teen Empowerment” kick-off show is open to everyone. But at its core, it’s an evening for, by and about Somerville’s young people and the issues they face. With original performances of music, theater, spoken word and a touch of comedy, a cast of 30 youth will address topics like bullying, depression, suicide, substance abuse and gang violence.
“A lot of people are dealing with these issues. We want to show them that they’re not alone,” said Tina Matteo, a Somerville High junior who will be telling her story of breaking away from a past full of violence.
Freshman Alexis Lopez, who said she’s “seen things that kids should never see when they’re that young,” said she wants to make a difference so things will be better for her younger nieces and nephews. She said the conference is about encouraging other teens to make better choices and aim higher.
“I want people to realize life is not all about smoking weed and popping Molly (pills),” said Lopez. “If someone tells you the sky’s the limit, they’re wrong. Because there’s footprints on the moon, so I want to shoot higher.”
Past years’ Peace Conferences have hosted 500 to 700 teens and other guests at a single day of workshops leading up to the evening show. Teen Empowerment Director Jaime Lederer said organizers hope to reach even more people this year, by partnering with other youth-oriented organizations to put together a full roster of events spread out over the month of April, under the theme “Giving Back to the Ville: Voices of the Seven Hills.”
Lederer said data shows crime has dropped 50 percent in East Somerville since Teen Empowerment was founded in the city eight years ago, funded by state grant money. The secret weapon in that campaign is young leaders who can act as role models and can speak to other youth as peers. “Youth have a voice that must be heard,” said Lederer.
In a recent rehearsal for this Saturday’s kick-off show, youth organizer Duvy Norestant encouraged a fellow performer to improvise from the script to make things more real. “Put it in your own language, because you’re talking to the youth at the Peace Conference, not their grandparents,” said Norestant.
Norestant himself will serve as the evening’s emcee.” Due to my story, I felt like I had to be emcee. I’m not going to tell you about the story, because you’ve got to come to the show to find out. But it outlines everything that we’re dealing with here.”
Somerville’s Peace Month kick-off show will take the stage this Saturday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Tickets are $2 in advance, or $3 at the door, and available at the theater box office or at Teen Empowerment, 165 Broadway. A full schedule of Peace Month events, leading up to the Villen’s All Out Bash at the Armory on Saturday, April 26, is available by checking out “Somerville Peace Month” on Facebook, or at www.teenempowerment.org.