A new art lesson

Senior and D.C. native John Muller has set out to use poetry and theater to empower young people.

Muller and fellow D.C. local Justin McNeil, a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, started DreamCity – a group focused on using the arts to educate people in D.C. Dreamcity, which started in 2004, has about 35 youth members.

“When John and I first started DreamCity we set out to vocalize a city-wide voice that had been muffled,” McNeil said.

DreamCity evolved as a reaction to the lack of hands-on learning students receive, Muller said.

The group is a registered student organization and is working with the Law School to achieve nonprofit status. Muller said he compares the organization, in ways, to a social movement in the style and spirit of the 1960s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

“It’s because we don’t have formal training. We’ve evolved from all of our informal experiences,” Muller said.

This summer the duo wrote and produced their own original play called “The 70,” a work about the 70 bus that runs from the southwest Waterfront to Silver Spring station in Silver Spring, Md., and the characters the two co-writers encountered on the route.

“The 70” was shown to Professor Richard Sutton’s sociology classes this semester – the Youth and Delinquency class and the Violence and the Family class.

“What intrigued me about ‘The 70’ is that so many people are totally unaware of what is going on in the city they live in. ‘The 70’ opens eyes,” Sutton said.

The group uses the arts as a way to get others involved in the community while also focusing on education. For example, students learn how to address a business letter, write grants, and gain financial literacy and understanding.

“There are people who help us out, and who we help from the crack house to the White House,” Muller said. They have received donations from more than 60 individuals and are working with 10 other philanthropic organizations, Muller said.

They’ve also received support from Michael Akin, director of the District of Columbia, Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs; and Bernard Demczuk, the assistant vice president for District of Columbia Affairs in the office of Government, International, and Corporate Affairs.

“We work with the custodian of the MLK Library and the president of GW. I think that’s really an important part of who we are,” Muller said.

In the future, Muller hopes DreamCity will be able to acquire its own space open to participants from across the District with a theater, library and computer lab. Muller also envisions employing members of the community in his center.

“Ultimately, and ideally, I would like to say that executive director of DreamCity is my job,” he said. Next year, Muller will attend graduate school at GW in public administration.

DreamCity recruits most youths through its grassroots presence in the community. Muller and McNeil have also worked with other organizations such as Upward Bound, D.C. Youth Advisory Council, the D.C. Public Library and the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities. Muller said most of the members hear about the group through word of mouth or are referred by friends who already attend.

One youth, Joseph “Joedy” Melson Jr., an eighth grader at Thurgood Marshall Educational Center in Northeast, is the associate director of DreamCity. He was a star of “The 70” and is a contributor to the poetry part of the organization, DreamCity Poets.

DreamCity is now focusing its efforts on involving members of the GW community.

“We’ve had a lot of events outside of campus, and the administration has been very supportive, but we have failed to really involve the students,” said Muller.

One area of the GW community in which DreamCity plans to become involved is with the various GW theater groups. Muller hopes to cast mostly GW students in the roles of “The 70” not just for the potential performance at Lisner, but for when it may go to The Atlas and the Lincoln Theaters this summer.

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