September – Everyday Champion – Deborah Asante

Congratulations to our September 2012 Everyday Champion: Deborah Asante – Founding Artistic Director of Asante Children’s Theater!

Deborah Asante with her Grand-daughters: Charlie and Tyla.

Learn what makes Deborah an Everyday Champion:

What is your profession or vocation?

I am an artist, storyteller and youth activist. I believe that art has the power to transform lives. As the Founding Artistic Director of the Asante Children’s Theatre, I have been successful in connecting young people to art. Art is a powerful tool in youth development.
How are you an Everyday Champion for Youth?

I understand how hard most young people struggle to find their way in this world. My biggest contribution has been being able to communicate in ways that capture their attention and imagination.  Most days of my life are spent working on creative ways to better reach our youth.

What impact do you hope to make on youth? 

I want to facilitate their self discovery and encourage their confidence.
What’s one thing that you wish an adult had told you when you were a young person?

I was told that I was worthy. I was told enough times that I started to believe it.
What do you want to do next to support youth?

I want to offer our program to the youth of our city free of charge. I worry that some families that need us won’t seek out our services because they think they can’t afford it. 
Do you work directly with youth? Yes

What percentage of your time is spent working directly with youth or families? 70%

Deborah was nominated by Keesha Dixon, Executive Director of Asante Children’s Theatre:
I met Ms. Asante in 1991 when my son joined the ACT Academy. Now at 33, my son’s success as an IT Operations Manager, at a prominent Indiana law firm, has a direct correlation to Ms. Asante’s wise use of African and African American performing arts, traditions and history.

As a unorthodox arts educator, Ms. Asante well deserves this recognition. Her work, creativity, and passion in developing and educating young minds through the arts has been deemed exemplary. As an artistic director since 1990 and as a storyteller on the roster of Arts for Learning the Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences since 1997, she has irrefutably contributed to the advancement of youth development through the arts.

For that past 22 years, Ms. Asante has been building an institution, the Asante Children’s Theatre (ACT) which primarily serves youth who are considered at-risk or underserved when it comes to arts programming. She uses ACT to cultivate an appreciation for African and African American performance art. Subliminally, young people are developing meaningful skills and confidence that will help them succeed at school, work, and home. Acting, dancing, singing and storytelling are used to guide youth ages 6 to 18 years on their road to self-discovery under her creative direction. Once they reach the age of 18 and graduate high school, they are qualified to continue their growth and development in the Touring Company. Through ACT, thousands and thousands of children have directly benefitted from her teachings either as participants or audience members. ACT alumni now serve as workshop facilitators, board members, and technicians for ACT. For these reasons and more, Deborah Asante stands out as a Champion for Youth.

Her story that best illustrates why she is a Champion for Youth goes like this. As an artistic director, to stimulate a love for storytelling by program participants, Ms. Asante has adapted several African folktales for the stage such as, “Abena, her Mother Warned Her About Snakes”, “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters”, and “Traveling to Tondo” just to name a few. In 1998, Deborah traveled to the NABS conference in Orlando, FL bringing with her an ensemble that performed a remarkable tribute to Zora Neale Hurston which was written and directed by Ms. Asante. One of those performers, Kila, is now a playwright continuing the tradition of storytelling on paper and in film. In 2006, a sub-committee of the Indiana Disproportionality Committee commissioned the Asante Children’s Theatre to come up with a innovative approach to address child abuse and child neglect. In 2007, a short movie, “I Never Meant” was written by ACT alumnus Kila Adams and Ms. Asante. The film creation was the work of yet another ACT alumnus, Ryan Bennett with Ms. Asante’s direction. It featured actors from the ACT Academy and Touring Company and later debuted during the Indiana Black Expo’s short film series. Today, the film, on DVD, is used by Prevent Child Abuse of Indiana in its state-wide Train the Trainer tool-kit. “I Never Meant” is an interactive presentation depicting a day in the life of a family, and the stress and frustration that can lead to an incident of physical violence. In 2008, she challenged four African American young adult men to come up with spoken word pieces supported by original music beats to draw attention to the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr. The result, was the creation of ACT’s Hip Hop Progressive Movement. Out of that movement came two productions. “MLK in a Hip Hop World”, performed at a variety of venues including college campuses in Indiana and Kansas, and during the 2009 Smithsonian Giving Voice Folklife Festival in Washington, DC. Next, “A Sword and a Kiss” performed during the 2011 Indy Fringe Festival related these young men’s perspective on love. Empowering the next generation through enlightenment is at the core of Ms. Asante being. Constructing “teachable moments”, as she calls them is why she took her craft, as a storyteller and playwright, to the next level by authoring and co-authoring plays to draw attention to sensitive social issues. Under her belt is “Who’s Yo Daddy?”, a hip hopera that dealt with teen fatherhood, “Who’s Loving You Now?” focused on teen sexuality, and “Caught Up” explored a variety of abuses. “Who’s Yo Daddy?”, still used by Planned Parenthood of Indiana, is being shown to youth at the Pendleton Juvenile Correction facility, Pendleton, IN and as a part of the “Let’s Talk” initiative – . There are so many ACT success stories of which Jeffrey Page, an Emmy nominated choreographer and cast member of the astonishing on-Broadway play, “FELA” is one of the highlights. Jeffrey comes back each year to speak to ACT youth

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