For over twenty years, we’ve been partnering with communities across Los Angeles to help make it a more hopeful, equal, and safe place for thousands who call it home. In that time, we’ve witnessed lives transformed, families restored, and also seen history repeat itself. If you had been at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues on April 29, 1992, you might have mistaken it for a war zone. The LA Riots were a tipping point cry for justice and an extreme, inevitable response to systemic inequality and corruption.
Heartbroken, many of us were left examining how we could help rebuild our city, and in 1993, actress Laura Leigh Hughes founded The Unusual Suspects. While residents of South LA and Koreatown created new infrastructure for their homes and businesses, we laid a foundation of our own, designing and implementing programs that gave community members a powerful platform for expression and healing.
Since 1993, thousands have been challenged, believed in, and provided unimaginable opportunity through our work. What started as a small program for foster youth has grown into intensive, 20-week after-school theatre workshops in multiple middle and high schools and juvenile detention centers as well as intergenerational theatre workshops for residents in those communities. The performing arts curriculum, which adheres to California state educational content standards, focuses on story and script development, and producing and performing a completed stage play. In these workshops, youth increase their language and writing skills, learn how to work collaboratively, and develop empathy and lifelong problem-solving skills.
As a founding member of the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network, we established ourselves as thought leaders and system-changers around what it means to help incarcerated youth successfully reintegrate. Young people expected to repeat cycles of violence, recidivism, teen-pregnancy, dropout, and gang membership have gone on to graduate, gain employment, mentor, vote, receive higher education, and contribute to their communities and our society. As our programs and reach have expanded across LA County, we’ve had the joy of watching individuals go on to become successful students, parents, grandparents, employees, and in many cases, even come back to contribute to The Unusual Suspects.