By John Dawe and Susan Smith
Two years ago, amidst a rash of (alleged) bullying-related suicides in our region, a group of kids at KISS (Kids Innovating Stage and Sound) Theatre, the adult-run-but-kid-led creative space at Wyoming Valley Mall, decided to put together a benefit show to fund bullying prevention programs.
NEPA Rainbow Alliance supported and promoted the event and we attended on behalf of the organization.
The “Anti-Bullying Concert” was organized by Pittston native and KISS Kid Jordan Tarter. We heard a diverse selection of acts including singers, actors, and comedians.
What happened next was nothing less than remarkable.
One of the “kids” stepped out on stage to talk about bullying he had seen first-hand in schools and how programs like KISS Theatre gave him confidence and a support network.
There, among a packed house of supporters – including his family – Kris came out. For seconds you could hear a pin drop in the former movie-turned-performance-stage theatre. Then it started: the audience erupted with cheers and applause. People hugged. It was like a scene out of a poorly scripted movie – but this wasn’t an act – this was real life.
We won’t even mention the countless skills and character virtues built by involvement in a program like KISS such as public speaking, leadership, acceptance of diversity, patience, and passion for the arts… (OK, we mentioned a few).
We won’t mention the thousands of people – kids, parents, relatives, neighbors, friends, and supporters who attend KISS events – and shop at the mall, eat at the food court.
Now mall management has sent a letter to KISS, evicting them from their space in favor of a new restaurant.
A Change.org petition has started to encourage PREIT, the Philadelphia-based real estate trust that owns the Wyoming Valley Mall, to allow KISS to stay.
Please ask yourself: Do we really need another restaurant? Or do we need supportive, bully-free, character building, safe spaces like KISS Theatre?
Click here to sign the petition and please click SHARE below to spread this message on social media and beyond.
About the Authors: John Dawe, CFRE is executive director of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, Inc. at the LGBT Center of NEPA. Susan Smith is past chair of the Rainbow Alliance Board of Directors and life-long ally and supporter of LGBTQ equality.