Friday, May 02, 2008

Hip Hop Artist and Activist to Speak at Windham High School on May 8; Willimantic Screening of Documentary Film About His Life on May 21

Willimantic, Conn., May 2, 2008 -- The Young Poets at Windham High School are hosting New York hip-hop artist Chris "Kazi" Rolle for two performances and motivational talks on Thursday, May 8, for the high school students. His theme: "If the whole world was listening, what would you have to say?"

This event is part of a month-long celebration of the Windham community's youth, called "Think and Be Heard: Celebrating Our Strengths and Creativity." This project is in collaboration with the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination and is designed to engage students in the community by engaging their creativity. A full schedule of community celebration events in May is available at

Kazi is also the subject of "The Hip Hop Project" documentary film, which will be shown as part of the Willimantic Cinema Project at the Capitol Theater on Wednesday, May 21, at 7 p.m. The public is invited to this screening, which is presented by The Young Poets, the WindhamARTS
Collaborative, and the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination.

From executive producers Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah, "The Hip Hop Project" is the compelling story of Kazi, a formerly homeless teenager who inspired a group of New York City teens to transform their life stories into powerful works of art, using hip hop as a vehicle for self
development and personal discovery.

In the film, Kazi challenges these young people to write music about real issues affecting their lives as they strive to overcome daunting obstacles to produce a collaborative album. In the film, Russell Simmons, hip hop mogul and long-time supporter of the project, partners with Bruce Willis to donate a recording studio to the Hip Hop Project. After four years of collaboration, the group produces a powerful and thought-provoking CD imbued with moving personal narratives and sharp social commentary. In contrast to all of the negative attention focused on hip hop and rap music, this is a story of hope, healing and the realization of dreams.

Inspired by Kazi's work, the filmmakers are donating 100 percent of the net profits from this film to Art Start and other nonprofit organizations working with young people.

The New York Times has said of "The Hip Hop Project": "[This] vibrant and soulful documentary, 'The Hip Hop Project,' sets its universal message to an inner-city beat. Named for the New York City youth program founded in 1999 by Chris Rolle, known as Kazi, a Bahamian orphan forced to grow up on the streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the movie follows his efforts to encourage at-risk teenagers to express themselves in verse rather than violence."

To view the movie trailer and for additional information about the film, visit

For more information, contact Steve Dahlberg, International Centre for Creativity and Imagination, at

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Three years ago a group of Windham High School and Windham Academy students came together to share their voices and experiences through poetry. They have become a well-known group in the Willimantic area. The Young Poets began performing for the Curbstone Press-sponsored Poetry in the Park at the Julia de Burgos Park in Willimantic. Soon their open-mic poetry readings were a monthly event at Wrench in the Works. They opened the Freedom Writers Diary at the Movie Plex theater in Mansfield, and were guests on the Wayne Norman morning show at WILI. In March of 2006, they raised enough money to see Freedom Writers Founder Erin Gruwell and Maria Reyes at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford. Erin invited them to the VIP room where the Poets performed for Erin and guests. The Poets continue to perform in our community. The Young Poets take you on an up-close and personal journey through the darkness and the light of real life. These amazing, talented students will reel you in and you will never be able to look at the world -- and our community -- in quite the same way. They are always a work in progress, and you will see them change and grow over the course of the year. You can view individual poets' pages online, as well as check out their published book of poetry, "The Streets Hold No Secrets," online at

Steven Dahlberg heads the Willimantic-based International Centre for Creativity and Imagination, which is dedicated to applying creativity to improve the well-being of individuals, organizations and communities. The centre collaborates with artists, scientists, business people, educators and others to help people develop their creativity. Dahlberg authored the foreword to the book, "Education is Everybody's Business: A Wake-Up Call to Advocates of Educational Change."

Chris "Kazi" Rolle was abandoned as a baby, has endured abusive foster homes and institutions, and survived alone on the streets with no home or family to support him. Falling victim to the intense pressures of his surroundings, Kazi dropped out high school and began hustling and
selling drugs in the streets to survive. After a few short visits to numerous New York City penal institutions, Chris became determined to focus his energy in other areas.

In 1991, Chris discovered the Tomorrow's Future Theatre Company and began directing, writing and acting for and in urban theatrical productions that fused hip hop and drama to tell tales of everyday life in the inner city. His play, "A Brooklyn Story," earned him the 1994 New York Governor's Citation and Martin Luther King Jr. Award. In 1995, Chris received the CBS Fulfilling the Dream Award for both his play and for his work in schools and homeless shelters advocating education and drug abuse prevention.

Chris graduated from the New York City Public Repertory Company (an alternative arts high school) in 1996 having won the Playwrights Competition. Chris had been a student of the Media Works Project since 1994, and in 1997 he taught the project's curriculum to teenagers coming out of Rikers Island prison. In 1998 Chris led Art Start's anti-racism public service announcement project, which was featured in the Bravo documentary, "Fire, Risk and Rhythm."

In 1999, Chris created Art Start's Hip-Hop Project, an award winning after-school program that connects New York City teens to music industry professionals to write, produce and market their own compilation album on youth issues. The program has attracted the likes of music industry mogul Russell Simmons and mega movie star Bruce Willis, who donated heavily to the success of the program. In 2000, Chris was featured in "People Who Are Using Their Lives" on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Chris' inspiring life story and ground-breaking program is also the focus of a feature-length documentary film, "The Hip Hop Project."

Chris founded Momentum, a hip-hop music label that prides it self in development, education and empowerment of its artists. Chris is co-founder of A.P.EX., a non-profit organization that hosts monthly college preparation workshops that assist inner-city high school students prepare for all aspects of college life, including financial aid and scholarships, admissions and personal development, and culminates in a week-long tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Chris also travels nationally to serve as an expert panelist on foster care, male holistic development, relationship issues, entrepreneurship and hip hop community activism and education. Chris is currently a New York City resident.

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