Los Kid Quixotes de Brooklyn; Stephen Haff

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Formed in 2010, Still Waters in a Storm, is an after-school program in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Run by Stephen Haff, a former public-school teacher, two dozen kids aged 5-17 meet six times a week to analyze classics like Paradise Lost, play the violin, write music, and study Latin. But Still Waters isn’t just any program. For these kids and their teacher, it is a refuge in their stormy lives. For the students, many of them living in constant fear of deportation, Still Waters is a secure community that uplifts their voices. For Haff, it was the sanctuary he fought to create after he returned to Brooklyn and teaching following a breakdown caused by bi-polar depression. Drawing from his experiences in education and theater and hoping to give students a creative outlet unavailable in the public-school system he left, Haff developed a new teaching method using AA group therapy, Quaker prayers, psychotherapy, and even Buddhist meditation circles to create a more empathetic and collaborative environment. In this fluid, welcoming space, Stephen and his students found solace and something else: their voices. All agreed that at Still Waters there would only be one rule: everyone listens to everyone. And this one rule has unlocked their incredible potential.

In 2016, the student of Still Waters took on a new challenge. With the help of dictionaries and the approval of acclaimed Cervantes translator, Edith Grossman, they are translating episodes from the classic Don Quixote into English from Spanish. They have taken the essence of the Spanish tale—a story about a dreamer who never gives up— and molded it to share the story of their immigrant parents.  To speak up for their community, the children have gone a step further and adapted their translations into a modern travelling musical, The Traveling Adventures of Kid Quixote, which they have performed all over the East Coast.

The star of Kid Quixote is six-year-old Sarah Sierra. Before Still Waters, Sarah was silent. But now she has many stories to tell, from her mother’s journey across the desert to America on a tiger to a girl-knight that defeats giants made of ice who lock up children. Sarah isn’t the only kid with a mighty tale. Talia cried at school because she can’t read but now she dreams of becoming a writer. Alex, a teenager, conquers her stage fright to deliver a song about accepting her sexuality to standing ovation. At Still Waters, these students, have found their voices and are using them to deliver a message of diversity, tolerance, love, optimism, and resilience essential to us all.

September 15, 2020

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