Serving justice in Syracuse Part I

An Eagle series - Media Unit as unit:

On Friday night June 5 the smell of Dinosaur Barbecue and the sounds of gospel, jazz and R'n'B hovered over the Media Unit's (MU) parking lot outside its WMU Studio at 327 Montgomery Street in downtown Syracuse. The MU was hosting its "Movin' on Up" awards, celebrating a banner year. One week later, the small troupe of entertainers were back in the jail.

The MU is made up of teens and young adults who write and stage plays and a weekly television show called, "Rough Times Live." Last year almost 1,000 Syracuse teens attended MU's show about gang violence. This was Angels with Broken Wings: Starting All Over Again's summer tour through the city neighborhoods in collaboration with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs. Nearly 700 more benefited from MU's Day at the Great New York State Fair, with free admission, meals and rides for attending one of four performances of Second Hand Smoke.

Another cause for celebration was Rough Times Live in its 30th year. Meanwhile, Unit members had just completed a five performance run of Drug Us (drug abuse) at Syracuse Stages' Black Box Theatre.

Why jail?

In essence, the MU is a company of teens and young adults, who use social problems as its subject for performance.

Its audience is the teen market who is often the target of many of these issues -- and who are at an age where one wrong turn can misdirect a larger part of their adult lives. While abusing drugs is a public health problem all across America, gang violence seems to be more specific to urban environments.

When the MU goes into Onondaga County's Justice Center, one of its audiences is young men ages 16 to 18. Many of these teenagers are awaiting sentences that can be related to gang violence, which in itself is almost always related to drugs. For the most part they are not bad boys, rather good at the game on their streets. It's often a matter of miss-guidance and conflicting rules coupled with excitement.

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