Arts, Dining & Entertainment

Listen Up Project launches ‘Black Voices of Vermont’

Teen outreach program announces interactive media project honoring and centering the voices of young Black Vermonters

In March 2021, Kingdom County Productions and the Listen Up Project launched “Black Voices of Vermont,” an interactive media project honoring and centering the voices of Black Vermonters. A collaborative story sharing project, “Black Voices of Vermont” will amplify the stories and perspectives of Black teens across the state.

The program is directed by Shani Stoddard, who will be choreographing the upcoming “Listen Up” musical, touring this summer. Stoddard was also a cast member of The Voices Project, a similarly teen-written and -inspired musical produced by Kingdom County Productions in 2005, when he himself was a teenager.

“As a Black Vermonter, born and raised in the Northeast Kingdom, I understand why representation is so important,” Stoddard said. “For the longest time, our voices and stories were not valued or included, so I created this project with one mission—to center and honor Black voices…simple as that. It has been a dream to connect with young folks and listen to them share their experiences. This is not just a push for diversity. This is Vermont.”

To create Black Voices of Vermont, Stoddard gave participants a few short questions via email about their lived experiences in Vermont. Throughout the spring, these interviews will be released bi-weekly as spotlight features, to be shared across various social media platforms. So far, teens interviewed include Yeshua Armbrister of St. Johnsbury, Elyse Martin-Smith of Charlotte, Jojo Michaelson of Montpelier, and Jeremiah Schotter of Jericho.

“The deep roots of systematic and cultural bias extend for generations, and the quicker we start digging at this poisonous tree, the quicker we can root it out for the sake of future generations,” said Armbrister. “An appropriate place to start is the Listen Up Project, where there are workshops and musical pieces, along with a particular section of the script, that let the minorities of this state (and beyond) voice their individual and collective experiences.”

Listen Up continues to extend an invitation to Black teens across Vermont who want to share their stories. Those interested can contact Shani Stoddard at [email protected] To refer a friend, contact outreach coordinator Lowry at [email protected] Look for the “Listen Up” Musical touring the state in August.

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