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South Side Students Find Their Yellow Brick Road

On Thursday, May 20, Parker Elementary Community Academy will be performing for the first time “The Wiz that Wuz.”

Youth Guidance Resource Coordinator Ben White said he was inspired to create this condensed version based on the popular African-American play “The Wiz” because he wanted to stress the importance of believing in yourself for his students.

“As the kids learn it and they understand it, even if it’s subliminal, they’re saying it over and over and over again,” said White.

Youth Guidance works with students in 50 Chicago Public Schools, providing after-school programs for at-risk youth. White said while the two-year old program at Parker has been successful, it has faced a few challenges with keeping some students enrolled.

White said when many of the students join the Youth Guidance program, they are introverted and “living in a box.”

“They don’t know if they are going to get laughed at or ostracized because they are doing something a little different,” said White. “We’re getting them out of that box.”

Playing the role of the “Wicked Witch Eveline” has been “life changing” for seventh-grader Briana Johnson. Johnson said prior to joining Youth Guidance, her life was unstable.  However, the program has allowed her to make friends and let her personality shine.

“When I came here, I got all excited and stuff and … started showing what I can really do with my life,” said Johnson.  “I felt like I got it. I can do this and it kept building and building up. So it’s a great level of confidence I have right now.”

During practice, Johnson dominated the stage as much as she was engrossed in her role as “Evaline.”

The demand of performing an hour-long play and his students’ response to that demand has encouraged White. He said he has noticed his students are able to focus more and apply recently learned memorization skills to their studies.

Through performing drama, White said, the students could face challenges in their lives and gain necessary tools to overcome them.

“It’s about the message. It’s about what the Wiz says,” said White. “If you believe in yourself, then that’s the key. It’s all about believing in your heart the things that you can do.”

“The Wiz that Wuz”

Thursday, May 20 at 4:30 p.m. at Parker Elementary Academy, 6800 S. Stewart St.

Tickets are $2

For more information, call 773-535-3375

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