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Overtown gets taste of Hollywood

caines | 11/15/2012, 5 a.m.

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CRA-led project to bring jobs, training for youth

An estimated 300 young basketball players between the ages of 16 and 23 showed up at the American Airlines Arena on a recent Sunday morning to audition for a film that will soon begin shooting in Overtown entitled Playin for Love. Then last Saturday, budding thespians made their way to Booker T. Washington Senior High School, hoping to be chosen for a chance to sing, dance, rap and act in the film. Its all part of a new community film initiative led by Hollywood director Robert Townsend who will direct and produce the movie. Hell also be launching a student training program designed to offer local at-risk youth positive alternatives to violence. Joining Townsend is NBA legend and former FIU head basketball coach, Isiah Thomas who will coach the boys on the court and is an executive producer of the film. Both will have bit parts in the movie. The film initiative is the latest venture of the Southeast Overtown Parkwest Community Redevelopment Agency [CRA] one which Executive Director Clarence Woods says is awin-win project. This will be our incubator to help folks learn how to become part of the film industry and like our other initiatives, theyll learn the skills needed to become successful in a number of jobs all related to the movie business, he said. This is about creating opportunities for people to get jobs and will even be open to those with limited criminal records. We often see employment opportunities come to Miami but our own people dont qualify because they lack the skills. Were teaching them the skills now. City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones agrees. Weve created other initiatives but they dont appeal to the younger demographic, she said. If youre going to engage them you need areas like TV, film or music. This project will introduce our youth to a whole new industry and world.

Townsend and Thomas are the spark

I have always believed that sports is a natural vehicle and platform to address education, youth and gang violence and poverty, Thomas said. The perception is that our youth dont want be educated and are more interested in dropping out. Robert and I disagree and wanted to send out a more positive message. We tell them to say no to drugs, violence and gangs but we dont give kids something to say yes to, Townsend said. Hundreds of kids had a chance to tryout on the Heats home floor with an NBA superstar coaching them. Thats really something to encourage and inspire them with. Townsend says that Spence-Jones was the strongest advocate for centering the project in Overtown and theres been nothing but positive feedback. We had about 6,000 kids sign up to come to Booker T. for auditions so its clear that the word has gotten out, he said. We believe this will have a ripple effect in terms of decreasing violence. Twenty students from the University of Miami and 20 kids from Overtown will serve as interns, getting on-the-job training on everything from hair and makeup to production, acting and cinematography. These kids have been through so much one youth has had several of his friends killed in drive-by shootings while another lives with her siblings in a shelter, Townsend added. This is about more than making a movie. Its amazing what theyve had to endure just to survive, Spence-Jones said. Youth all over the country could tell similar stories. We hope to give them the motivation to going on. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com