On Friday, July 18, on the city's tab, teens from over two dozen summer youth groups met up at the Moore Theater to see a play about slavery in America. It sounded like a good deal: a free cultural event about historical race issues, for the 28 groups funded by the Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP), a division of the Seattle Human Services Department.

The show, The Maafa Suite--a drama about racism and the slave trade, put together by the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York--is intended as a platform for discussing race. The city sponsored the show last year at the request of the director of human services, and brought it back again last week. (City employees could also attend the July 18 matinee for free and count it as diversity training.)

But adult leaders from several of the youth groups say the show was offensive, due to overt religious themes and some heavy-handed identity politics. Moreover, they say they had no choice about bringing their teens. Can anyone say separation of church and state?

"It was like a church service. Basically, they were preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ," says one group leader, who did not want to be named. She accompanied several non-Christian teens, and says they were uncomfortable with the show.

Other leaders who work with Muslim, Buddhist, and atheist youth also reported that their kids were also uncomfortable.

"Some of my youth felt the same way," says Tanya Kim, youth program manager of the International District Housing Alliance. "They did say it was a little heavy-handed on religion." Kim says she explained to the kids that the religious aspect was a cultural difference.

Obviously, the real problem is that the youth groups' leaders were led to believe the show was a required field trip, says the woman who accompanied the non-Christian teens. "Two weeks before the programs started we had this meeting at the city. They told us that we were required to go to this play," she explains. "I found it highly offensive that we were required to go to that show."

Though attendance wasn't tied to SYEP funding, the city "expected youth to attend," says a woman at another city-funded youth group.

Julie Nelson at the Seattle Human Services Department says the youth groups weren't required to attend. Either way, this play--with its strong religious tones--was clearly heavily promoted by the city.


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