A chance meeting that brought together three-time Emmy-winner Charles “Roc” Dutton and the Chicago Youth Leadership Academy is now bringing the actor to the University of Chicago.
While visiting Chicago last summer to promote his film, The Obama Effect, Dutton noticed a group of uniformed teenagers on an outing in Hyde Park.
He approached the group’s chaperones and learned they were participants in the Chicago Youth Leadership Academy, a three-week summer program on the University’s campus that provides South Side teens with leadership and character education, mentoring by Chicago police officers and academic support. The program exposes youth from high-risk neighborhoods to college life through a collaborative effort of the Chicago Police Department’s 003rd and 007th Districts and the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement.
Inspired by the organization’s mission, Dutton said he wanted to help support the academy program.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20 and Thursday, Feb. 21, Dutton will do just that as he brings two benefit performances of his one-man autobiographical play, From Jail to Yale: Serving Time on Stage, to the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Proceeds from the shows will benefit the academy. This will be the first time Dutton performs the show in Chicago.
“When I saw those kids lined up, I was really struck by the discipline of the program and the fact that somebody was trying to make a difference in their lives,” said Dutton, who spent some time with the students. “Doing this show to benefit the program is the least that I could do. I believe if you’re going to consider yourself an actor, you also have to be an activist for change.”
Tickets for the performances may be purchased on the Logan Center website, or by calling the Logan Center box office at (773) 702-2787. General admission tickets are $25 ($10 for students). $50 VIP tickets include a reception and meet-and-greet with Dutton. Dutton will offer two special matinee performances for students in Chicago Public Schools.
Along with supporting the Chicago Youth Leadership Academy, the performances will launch the new UChicago Engages series—civic engagement events that will bring notable individuals from various disciplines to the South Side of Chicago to highlight important urban and social issues.
“The Chicago Youth Leadership Academy prepares young people in challenging situations to take advantage of educational and other opportunities that come their way, and it is one of the ways the University of Chicago partners with the city and with local organizations to help strengthen communities,” said Derek Douglas, the University’s Vice President for Civic Engagement. “We are honored that Charles Dutton has chosen to contribute his time and talent to bring his personal story to Chicago to support this program.”
From Jail to Yale chronicles Dutton’s inspirational journey from prison in Baltimore to the Yale School of Drama. Dutton’s distinguished career has gone on to include Tony-nominated performances in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson on Broadway, a starring role in the Fox television series “Roc” from 1991-1994, and Emmy Award-winning appearances on “The Practice” and “Without A Trace.” He directed and starred in the HBO miniseries “The Corner” in 2000.
The problems that surrounded Dutton during his youth in Baltimore—gang violence, frequent incarceration and limited social support—are familiar to many teens growing up on the South Side.
The Chicago Youth Leadership Academy aims to help teens succeed in spite of these challenges, according to Rudy Nimocks, director of community partnerships at the University. “While students in the program all live within a five-mile radius of the campus, many have not been exposed to college life. The program helps them see new options and new possibilities for their lives,” Nimocks said.
The Chicago Youth Leadership Academy was founded in 2009 by two police officers who wanted an opportunity to connect with and mentor South Side teens. With support from the University of Chicago and CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy), the program has expanded from one to three weeks, and now serves girls as well as boys.
“It is a thrill to have such an esteemed actor recognize and identify with what we are trying to accomplish through the academy,” said 007th District Police Officer Charles O’Connor, director and co-founder of the program. “Over the past four years, more than 130 youth have benefited from CYLA, and we hope Charles Dutton’s support will help raise both awareness and additional support.”