For this version of iChoose, the mini-musical setting is a New York high school classroom. Seven empty chairs face upstage. Dressed in jeans and a blazer, Mr. G, the teacher, enters enthusiastically. He stops when he notices the empty chairs, his enthusiasm suddenly drained. Students enter and sit in their seats methodically, like they’re numb. Their thoughts are given voice: “Do you see me?” “Nobody gives a damn about me.” “Can you hear me?” “I feel like I never belong.” “I hate myself.”
Mr. G carries out a dialogue with the students, discussing great and courageous peacemakers throughout history; people like Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Betty Williams and Daisaku Ikeda. The students become absorbed in the stories of each peacemaker. Mr. G then poses some hypothetical questions, such as, “What if someone like Rosa Parks had employed violent means to accomplish her objective?” Through such questions, he helps the students re-evaluate their own circumstances.
Mr. G continues: “A great philosopher and humanitarian, Daisaku Ikeda, has said:
I have infinite trust in young people, and so I say to them:
You are the hope of humanity!
Each of you has a bright future ahead.
Each of you has a precious potential waiting to be developed.
Your success, your victory will be a victory for all of us.
Your victory will lead the way in this century, century of peace and humanity.
— from the "Introduction" to The Way of Youth, by Daisaku Ikeda, p. xi.
Mr. G turns and tells the students that essentially, they are no different from Rosa Parks or anyone else who has made a difference. “And for that reason alone,” he says, “you are deserving of the highest respect.”
On June 1, Future Leaders Institute Charter School in Harlem was the site for the iChoose NY debut with 700 students in attendance. In the afternoon, the iChoose team visited I.S. Roberto Clemente Middle School with 600 students.
On June 2, Brooklyn’s John Jay Secondary School for Law hosted iChoose for the morning and afternoon assemblies for their 1200 students. Many classes visited the Victory Over Violence exhibit to study the various forms of violence before the iChoose performance.
During the talk back session after each performance, the cast members briefly shared their personal experiences of conflict resolution; the way they resolved it through dialogue. Then the students were asked to identify what constitutes physical and passive violence.
Debbie Gonzalez, a teacher at John Jay Secondary School for Law in Brooklyn said: “We had one experience today after the first iChoose production. Some of the students were going to fight. These students have police records and are very hard to stop from fighting or to do dialogue with. Right after the production they went out and were about to start fighting. However, a student who was one of the more difficult instigators, actually said, ‘Well, why don’t we talk about this?’ So, instead of fighting they went to another area of the school and had a dialogue, a discussion, and in fact, they even shook hands and agreed not to fight, which was really incredible. Throughout the day, this girl was tempted to fight more than one other time, but each time she refused to fight.“
Additional comments by school faculty members and students include the following:
“This iChoose presentation featured people who are very close in age to our young people. The language that they were using was a language that they can identify with. The specific stories that were shared are stories that I think they can also relate to. The [title] iChoose, is, one hopes, something that will resonate with them, because if we ask them, ‘What do you choose to do?’ hopefully it will remind them of this presentation.” (Pete Anderson, principal, Future Leaders Institute School)
“I liked it very much. It was very interesting to see how they really portrayed the exact way some kids act … Because of the music and dancing it wasn’t boring, it was very interesting, and me and my classmates were singing along to some of the songs…I think it’s really good because if many kids know about iChoose, it will probably stop them from getting into fights and those sort of things.” (Jareyou Diall, a 7th-grade student)
“Nobody was slouching in their seats; it was a very get-up-and-go presentation, and I think that it sent a message to us kids in a way that would actually hook us and get our attention… Also, you guys sang songs so we could sing along and maybe dance along in our seats. Usually when kids are listening, it’s not really gonna grab our attention, so the way y’all did it, I could commend y’all for doing that … Victory Over Violence shows that you’re a victor when you don’t use violence. Like the stabbing, and all that going on in the streets, you could probably change that if all the kids come together and think about this one message that victory is way better than violence.” (Joshua Miner, a 6th-grade student)
“The message was very clear and extremely profound. I believe that we did choose this time as your founder Dr. Ikeda stated, to show the best that we can become. It’s not always an easy start, but as we continue we will create and build a better society.” (Javier Ortiz, a teacher at Manhattan’s Roberto Clemente School)
“What struck me the most is when the young lady stepped into the classroom. She was very quiet and she didn’t want to say anything about the situation she had seen before class, of why she was late. That struck me because a lot of violence goes on in teenage lives every day, no matter if you’re minding your business walking down the street or...anything could happen … iChoose, I think, is very elegant and very unique because it shows that you have a lot of choices in, not only in your life, but your friend’s life, family’s life, and you have to make great choices, and positive choices.” (Daniella Webster, a 9th-grade student)
“I felt that iChoose showed us that every person individually can make a change. If Rosa Parks could have done it to end segregation, we can do it to end the conflicts in our neighborhoods like gangs and illegal drugs and alcohol and things like that.” (Regine Francois, student)