The community of Richmond, CA has fallen victim to its own turf war, where blood is constantly being spilled at the hands of those who do not know why the war was originally waged decades ago. “Romeo is Bleeding” is an independent documentary directed by Jason Zeldes, which sheds light on the battle between the Bay Area’s North Richmond and Central Richmond, where bodies fall nearly every day as a result of this purposeless feud. Donté Clark, a well-known 24-year-old spoken word poet raised in the community, and Molly Raynor, his collaborator and former teacher, are working to stop the violence by starting a dialogue through the arts and spoken word. Since its premiere at the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival, this film has established a solid platform for this dialogue.
Clark and Raynor work together with RAW Talent, the music and performing arts program of the Ryse Center, which aims to create a safe space for teenagers within the community to express themselves creatively. RAW Talent encourages self-exploration and self-esteem to empower teenagers to be a voice for themselves and for their community. In February of 2013, Clark’s “urban adaptation” of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet entitled “Té’s Harmony” was performed for the community of Richmond. Starring as Té (Romeo) alongside his RAW Talent students, Clark reframed the purposeless deaths and the turf war that has left so many of his personal friends and family members dead.
While the film focuses on the positive effects that exposure to the arts can have for at-risk youth in troubled communities, art therapy and other outlets for creative expression have also proven to be effective in helping those who struggle with mental health disorders and/or substance abuse. Artistic forms of expression have been proven to resolve conflicts, help individuals manage problematic behaviors and improve interpersonal skills. The violence that has enveloped Richmond has also taken its toll on the mental health of its young residents, who live in constant fear for their safety. RAW Talent is not a mental health service, but the benefits it has had on the mental health of youth in the area is undeniable.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, using the creative process to explore feelings gives individuals an opportunity to “reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.”
In addition to working with teenagers through RAW Talent, Clark participates in youth outreach by speaking and performing spoken word at juvenile detention centers, as shown in the film. Not only do his words affect the individuals he speaks to, but his story serves as an inspiration. The majority of teenagers in Clark’s community turn to drugs and violence to cope with the trauma that surrounds them, as it has become the accepted norm. As a result, death or incarceration are common realities for most teenagers. Choosing to instead do something positive through creative self-expression and having that result in impacting an entire community is rare. However, as RAW Talent cultivates the talent of teenagers and empowers them to speak their truth and start a dialogue, this will become less rare.
The ending of “Té’s Harmony” diverts from Shakespeare’s classic, concluding with a declaration against the unnecessary violence and hatred between the families in the play. This intentional deviation highlights the fact that there is always an alternative to violence.
Whether an individual is recovering from trauma, battling substance abuse or struggling with mental health issues, alternative therapies incorporating the arts and creativity provide a unique and much-needed outlet. One student shown in the film even explained how working within the arts made him feel needed, appreciated and loved, feelings that he did not get from his home life or his community as a whole. These artistic opportunities give individuals a purpose, something that is invaluable to teenagers, especially those struggling with the issues outlined above.
If your teenager is struggling, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a treatment facility that specializes in helping teenagers dealing with substance abuse, mental health disorders and co-occurring disorders. We offer alternative therapies to fit your needs. Call our 24-hour helpline at 866-615-7266 today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer