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How it feels to have incarcerated family members, as told by Milwaukee youth

It isn't often that adults give kids the stage to speak, unfiltered, about pressing issues in their lives while at the same time agreeing to not talk back.

Dasha Kelly sees the value in doing just that.

The acclaimed writer, performer and social entrepreneur is partnering with the Milwaukee Art Museum as the museum programs a series of community conversations inspired by their current exhibit: The San Quentin Project by Nigel Poor and the men of San Quentin State Prison.

I like being able to create experiences that are disrupting what's expected.

Each community conversation addresses a different facet of the complex broader topic of incarceration, the theme that The San Quentin Project is centered around.

The first of these conversations puts young people (quite literally) in the center of the room, offering them a chance to talk about the experience of having a family member in prison. Kelly emphasized the importance of giving these young people the opportunity to talk amongst themselves, uninterrupted, in a room full of adults who are only there to listen.

"It's a shift from having seven experts who have really high degrees to come tell us how to talk to one another and tell us what we think about stuff, " Kelly insists, "No one else gets heard


The way the room is set up is just as important as the questions that are asked. The five young people who offered their voices joined Kelly in an intimate inner circle in the center of the room, intentionally structuring it so the young people were talking to each other—not the audience.

Adults were requested to practice the sometimes-difficult art of active listening as they packed into the room, forming an outer circle around the conversation taking place.

In a debriefing session after the event, the young people unanimously said it was a relief to be able to talk through these experiences in an intentional way, prompted by questions they collectively came up with beforehand.

Experience the conversation unfold for yourself by watching the video above.