The 18th Annual Building Bridges Conference will commence with a piece from the social-justice performance troupe I Am We Are (IAWA).
IAWA has been focusing on their introductory performance for the conference since mid-Feb.
“We’re covering different point-of-views relating to mass incarceration in a broader sense,” IAWA member and Junior Theatre Major Comfort Dolo said. “Our goal is to give the attendees their first exposure of mass incarceration before delving in deeper with the keynote speakers and workshops. We’ll be talking a bit about the historical angle of mass incarceration; for example, the institution of slavery and how it has shaped the establishments today.”
About fifteen actors will be contributing to the opening of the conference. The members have been collaborating with Building Bridges to piece together a show that will adequately introduce the topic of mass incarceration to conference attendees. Bringing in personal accounts and their own experience to the topic, the show integrates various perspectives to give light to the topic as a performance piece.
“We created this show from nothing; just looking back at how much effort we’ve put into this show, how much we’ve researched and written feels like we’ve come a long way,” Dolo said. “Talking about these issues with the other members has really helped me feel engaged in this topic. I want the attendees to walk away with knowledge and understanding, as I have with others. I think we all have a general idea of what mass incarceration is, but we don’t really know what we can do about it. Creating dialogue and having discussions is the first step to finding that solution.”
Following the IAWA performance will be Keynote Speakers Dr. Angela Davis and Dr. Marc Lamont Hill. There will be five supplementing workshop presenters afterward addressing other aspects of mass incarceration. These topics touch on matters concerning the juvenile justice system, immigration and incarceration, Minnesota policy, women in prison, and privatized prison. In an effort to cover the range of issues that arise from mass incarceration, these workshops will provide an overview of problems stemming from the overarching causal factors.
“We thought about what sort of issues we absolutely wanted to be covered in the conference,” Co-chair of the Building Bridges Workshop Committee and Senior Political Science Major Elizabeth Logas said. “We then chose speakers who were prominent leaders in these topics. For this, we did a ton of research and looked at a lot of candidates before sending out emails and making phone calls.”
Even with a limited budget, the committee was able to receive confirmation from all the workshop speakers they wanted.
“Actually receiving all of the paperwork back from the speakers was a big accomplishment,” Logas said. “I think all of them are going to be excellent, as they cater to a lot of different interests. I’m personally very excited to hear Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds; she’s the founder of an award-winning legal rights clinic and also a nationally known expert about women in prisons. I’m also looking forward to hearing Michele Garnett-McKenzie speak about immigration and issues of race in the detention systems. There’s a lot of issues that we don’t know about, and these workshops will be able to inform people about specific social justice issues involving mass incarceration.”
Finally, there will be an Action Component to the conference held in Beck Academic Hall, This Action Component consists of a simulation game for ten participants at a time, which will last about fifteen minutes each, followed by another fifteen minutes of group debriefing.
“In this simulation, each participant will play the game as a character outlined on a one-page character profile,” Co-chair of the Building Bridges Action Component Committee and Senior Environmental Studies Major Alex Christensen said. “Each profile concisely tells the story of someone who is just getting out of prison after being convicted of a felony. Based on national statistics of the prison systems, the profiles vary in race, sex, education, mental health, and work experience. Each profile has personal objectives they need to complete during the game, and depending on their circumstances, they may or may not be able to accomplish those objectives outlined.”
The Action Component committee generated different ideas before they settled on the concept of life after prison.
“One of the main challenges was trying to create the character profiles,” Member of the Building Bridges Action Component Committee and Biology Major Katie Schlangen said. “We wanted to portray the reality of challenges that ex-cons go through in a way that would really hit home.”
“Even if you haven’t been to Building Bridges before, I would challenge people to go to the Action Component to experience this in a more intimate way. Letting yourself be vulnerable is a good opportunity to grow,” Christensen said.