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The Art of Community Building

Building a community is hard. And I’m not just talking about community in the sense of “we-live-near-each-other.” I’m talking about a community of individuals that rally behind one another, that feed each other's passions, and that have common interests or experiences. A true community is a place that accepts. That understands.

It takes an important cause--or a truly special person--to create an atmosphere in which busy, hardworking, exhausted citizens want to come together in this way. We all know that setting aside time in our calendars takes sacrifices. To ask someone to give up precious time and energy for your cause--your group, your community--is a pretty big request.

But this summer, I learned that Passage Theatre possesses both the cause and the person to create such a sacred space. The person: marcus d. harvey. The cause: suicide.

That’s pretty heavy. Allow me to elaborate. I am a Pakistani-American, 19-year-old girl who just finished her freshman year of college. I have a mother who suffers from depression, and an aunt who committed suicide. I, too, have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I also happen to be brown.

Why is that last detail relevant? Because people of color, it turns out, are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health challenges than their white counterparts. I learned that during my summer research at Passage, working on the i am not okay (working title) project, whose full production is slated to premiere in the theatre’s 2023-24 season.

i am not okay (working title) is a documentary-style play about mental health, suicide, and depression in the Black and Latin communities. In a world where self-reported suicide attempts in these communities have risen drastically, and Black and Latin youth are twice as likely to die by suicide than their white counterparts, i am not okay (working title) is a conversation taken from interviews in and about the community that examines what it means to be okay.

As with so many of Passage’s shows, i am not okay will be written based on real events and experiences shared by the Trenton community. My job this summer has involved organizing interviews for it’s playwright, marcus d. harvey, with citizens who have related trauma or association with these heavy--but relevant--topics.

I thought that cold-calling and emailing adults I’d never met before would be a non-starter; that no one in the community would have time to talk to an artist about a show that isn’t being produced for a couple years. It turns out that I was wrong.

Not only have these interviews provided an insightful and crucial window into suicide in minority communities, but these conversations have sparked something thrilling. They have reignited interviewees with passion; reminding them that this issue exists. Slowly but surely, a community is building that hasn’t forgotten what they’ve lost and what they’ve seen. It is a community that wants to elevate a worthwhile cause. Working on this show hit very close to home. I was, and am, proud to be part of the team in some small way.

Even after my internship ends, I will continue to watch the development of this cohort of individuals from astonishingly different walks of life. Passage has done something quite remarkable: they have turned tragedy into purpose, and sorrow into fire, and isolated individuals into community. This community--and this show--is going to change lives. I know it.

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