Anna Deavere SmithProjects
Read our interviews and exclusive videos
“The Pipeline Project” is Anna Deavere Smith’s newest endeavor. Its centerpiece is her play, “Notes from the Field.” Using her signature form of theater, based on interviews with hundreds of individuals, the play shines a light on the lack of opportunity and resources for young people living in poverty and often suffering with regard to their physical and mental health, and how these circumstances often lead them into the criminal justice system. “The Pipeline Project” also seeks to extend the conversation on these pressing issues beyond the theater into America’s communities through audience discussions, public convenings, and other events.
A video making its way around the internet today shows a fifth grade English teacher in North Carolina shaking hands with each of his students before they enter class. What’s remarkable about it is that the teacher, Barry White, Jr., developed unique and elaborate handshakes for all seventeen of them that are specifically tailored to their personalities. The idea was inspired by LeBron James’ pre-game handshake ritual with his teammates, but Mr. White says it goes beyond that: he and his students pride themselves on “high expectations and meaningful relationships” in the classroom.
Indeed, students said that Mr. White and his handshakes made them feel welcomed in the school. In many of the interviews for the Pipeline Project, the issue of students not feeling seen or known by their teachers arose. Can we hope that teachers around the country are inspired to find creative ways to make their students feel wanted in the classroom?
Since beginning her research for The Pipeline Project in 2013, Anna Deavere Smith has interviewed over 250 people in four main geographic areas: Northern California, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and South Carolina. Interviews have also been conducted in New York, Washington DC, and even Helsinki. In order to get as many perspectives as possible, Anna has spoken with a wide variety of people who have been affected by these issues: students, teachers, and principals; incarcerated youth, correctional officers, judges, public defenders, and law enforcement officials; community organizers and activists; academics and social scientists; musicians and journalists. Scroll down below to hear from a few of these individuals directly.
Following the November 15 performance of Notes From the Field at Second Stage, Anna Deavere Smith sat down with Amanda Ripley, a journalist and Pipeline Project interviewee. Amanda has written extensively about education, in the U.S. and abroad, and recently wrote an article for The Atlantic about the disturbing schools law in South Carolina.
“Prison don’t do nothing but make you a worser person. Made me where I didn’t care if I hurt someone. And the longer you stay in prison, the more you lose your feelings about even caring. You don’t care if you stab someone. […] Who cares? You’re worthless!”
Yurok Fisherman, former Inmate
Yurok Reservation, Klamath, CA
Judge Dan Anders
“And what I said to him during sentencing was, I said, the system’s failed you. We as a society failed you. At some point we didn’t meet our responsibility to provide you with a safe environment, an education, all the things that you need. We failed you.”
“So then after the- after the massacre happened and then they wouldn’t even lower the flag to half-staff, that was kind of the snapping point for me. I told him even, like, if we could take the Confederate Flag down, that’s something that I would, you know, risk going back to jail for.”
Artist / Activist
Columbia, South Carolina