“I know why the caged bird sings. When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore. When he beats his bars and he would be free. It is not a carol of joy or glee. But a prayer that he send from his heart’s deep core. But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings. I know why the caged bird sings.”

It is easy to talk about change when it involves someone else. The truth is, for change to happen, it has to start with us. That is the hard part. “If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make that change.” – Michael Jackson

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM) performed a socially conscientious and emotionally powerful presentation of “Can You Hear Us Now? Man in the Mirror” on June 3 at the the Milwaukee High School of the Arts.

The live performance featured Club members, who used their artistic talents to express an important message to the community about change. Based on Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” the legendary song from 1988 is about transformation of self that comes when individuals take responsibility for their actions and become the change they want to see happen in the world.

The play served as a platform for the youth to be the leaders they are, the leaders they will continue growing into. The future, if nurtured, that can bring many closer to the light a the end of that long tunnel.

“I was reminded of the power of the village. What can you teach a youth to ensure they are prepared for life?” asked La’Ketta Denise Caldwell in her statement to the Milwaukee public after the performance. “Say something inspirational and back it up with an action that will change the direction of their life for better. Maybe you will volunteer your time. We simply need you to do something. I ask you to not let the production be just a feel good moment. Help rebuild the village.”

Much is being said about the current crime problem in Milwaukee. It is a problem. But it has usually been a problem for someone else. An all too easily ignored headline, until the day it becomes our own personal problem. Words cost very little, actions require effort. A government “of the people” cannot do more than those very same people are willing to do for themselves. Action is what the community needs, from every member who is a part of it.

Since words are still needed as a reminder to us all about the part we play in society, and how one life touches many, perhaps the words of the children who performed on Friday should speak for themselves. With permission from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, excerpts from the play and Caldwell’s call to action are published here.

“I don’t know if you live where I live… surrounded by danger, drugs and violence. Everybody knows somebody that’s locked up. It is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.

Growing up, gunshots were my lullabies. I used to hum the hymns from church on Sunday to drown out the noise and put my baby brother to sleep. But, once his eyes closed… who was there to comfort me? It’s hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.

I remember fighting in elementary school. Teachers just stared at us. Every once in a while someone would break us apart. But, we were the bad kids. We never listened when they yelled. Mama yelled. Daddy yelled. Teachers yelled. Even when I tried my hardest, the yelling never stopped. It’s hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.

Middle school came and went. The same patterns repeated. Everyone kept telling me the same thing, “You’re a bad kid. You can’t learn. This is your fault. You don’t deserve better than this.” Finally I turned off the TV and stopped reading magazines. I stopped going to school. It’s hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.

I believed what they told me. “I am bad. I am unkind. I will never amount to anything.” No. That last one isn’t true. I can take control. I will become someone. If they want to see bad, I’ll be ruthless. I’ll take what I need and show no mercy. I’ll fight to survive. It won’t be me that’s drowning in the darkness.

I was 16 when I got locked up. I can’t even remember most of what happened, it was all so fast. I was pretty badly hurt. The doctors say I may never remember all of what happened. I do know it was winter. I do know that it was a fight. And I know I was the lucky one. I made it out alive.

I write to you now from the inside of a prison cell that I may never get out of. It’s now that I truly know what it’s like to be surrounded by darkness.

I don’t ask you to pity me; your pity is worthless in here anyways. Instead, I write to you and ask you to think of the kids in your life. Your daughters and sons, your nieces and nephews. The children you see playing outside your local school or singing at church… and I ask you to cherish them. To get involved in their schoolwork. To play with them. To talk to them about issues in their lives and actually listen to what they have to say. To vote in elections and contact your elected officials to demand changes. To support organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs who dedicate themselves to trying to help every child who walks through their doors.

I once heard someone say that every kid is one caring adult away from becoming a success story. Imagine what could happen if the entire community cared enough to take action. Maybe, just maybe, there would be no more youth surrounded by darkness.”

“It may be too late for me. But it is NOT too late for my baby brother. It’s not too late for our kids.”

“The definition of adversity is difficulties or misfortune. Many of us have experienced adversity in our lives. What we go through is not for us, but those who come afterward to have light to make it to the mountaintop. We all know the problems that plague our city. People are losing their life over senseless violence. Homes are being foreclosed. I know people who feel like there isn’t anything worth living for. However, we forget the beauty of our city in the midst of the challenge. There is hope. There is the beauty. There are many possibilities. That is where we must focus our attention.”


1. Share how you will make that change in a youths life on the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee Facebook page. #‎maninnthemirror

2. Donate to the Arts Department at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee. Dollars, change any amount will provide Arts opportunities for our babies.

3. Check out and support 15 year old Erica Lofton, CEO of Girls In Action. She is unbelievable and doing great work. We need to wrap our arms around a young woman who is doing great work to heal our city. She is a keynote speaker, songstress, poet, and can lead workshops.