In 2014, I met—and fell in love with—the All Stars Project and its Afterschool Development approach as a new way of engaging poverty. I have always loved to perform—discovering dance as a teenager and growing up poor in Teaneck was a life-changer for me—and I immediately saw the effectiveness of the All Stars’ performance approach as a key tool for helping not only inner-city youth but people of all ages to grow and develop.
What do I mean by “performance”? Think of early childhood, when the developmental power of performance is on full display: young children are enthusiastically supported to play, to pretend, to imitate—to perform—what they don’t know how to do. It is how we all learn to speak, to walk, and so much more. As children get older, play, performance, and pretending all give way to more “scripted” expectations. This can be especially devastating for inner-city youth who, without the support to perform and try new things, can get locked into narrow, negative, and potentially dangerous roles.
Many of the young people we work with are in survival mode. So, to be able to partner with them in creating a space in which they can perform outside of their daily life experiences—with boldness and creativity—is a source of constant inspiration and joy.
Across the Garden State, a new coalition of business, civic, and community leaders, and front-line practitioners, academics, and other caring adults is enthusiastically joining our young people to create a New Play for New Jersey. I am honored to be working with thousands of people from all walks of life who share our commitment to break the cycle of poverty and create a more inclusive New Jersey.
At All Stars, everyone performs—and everyone grows! I invite you to join us.
Shadae McDaniel MSW is the City Leader of the All Stars Project of New Jersey. She received her BA from Howard University and MSW from Rutgers University. Over the last 15 years, she has worked with thousands of inner-city youth in the New Jersey nonprofit sector.