The audience settled in for one last time at the open-air YoungArts campus courtyard to experience “Little Boy Lost: One Child’s Story of Life Behind Bars,” the final performance in the Outside the Box Series.
The evening kicked off with a powerful spoken word performance by Simbaa Gordon, the 2016 YoungArts Winner in Writing, who set the tone for what was to come.
The multi-disciplinary performance that followed featured a film, and live music led by conductor Daniel Bernard Roumain, who produced the score and played violin. He was joined on the stage by YoungArts winners Geneva Lewis and Aubree Oliverson on violin, local percussionist Murph Aucamp, violist Vishnu Raman Kutty, and cellist Stephanie James.
Journalist and New York University Professor Lisa Armstrong, who directed the film, talked about working with Daniel, who came to her because “he knew I had been working on incarceration issues for a while,” which is the film’s main subject, the life before, during, and after incarceration of Damien Duncan.
Once Armstrong decided to do the event in Miami, she began interviewing people. Damien was one of 9 or 10 people she met with, all of which were recommended to her by various organizations she contacted.
Damien was part of Empowered Youth, and the organization’s founder and CEO Colleen Adams was featured in the film, and was also in attendance at the screening. She felt that of the two young men she recommended to Armstrong, Duncan was the best fit for the project.
“I was thrilled about Damien being featured, because — as the documentary profiled — Damien had been on a long and difficult journey, and I believed he was due this opportunity to speak his truth and be acknowledged for the fine young man I know him to be,” said Adams.
Armstrong shared those sentiments.
“I feel like we really lucked out in finding Damien. Aside from willing to be vulnerable about his life, and him being a rapper, it was also very much about the story between him and his mother,” said Armstrong. “That was the main impact with the audience, what they had to share.”
After various musical numbers, solos by the musicians and a sprinkling here and there of spoken word, the film was screened. During the screening, the musicians and spoken word artist remained on stage.
“We purposely left spaces where the spoken word became the narration and there were spaces for music,” Armstrong said.
The film focuses on Duncan’s life at home, his incarcerations, and the strides he’s made thanks to the leaders of Empowered Youth. Adams and several of the program’s counselors discuss the work they do there to help young men like Damien regain their place in society and find employment.
The program works in two phases. Phase 1 is the Character Development and Life Skills phase and Phase 2 is the Job Training and Development Phase. “I added the second phase because I kept losing great young men back to the street because they needed money,” said Adams.
Damien’s Phase 2 is featured in the film, showing him working at a Jet Ski business, where he’s been promoted to a management position.
Once the film was over, the musicians began to perform again and Damien grabbed the audience with his rapping skills, running through the crowd, enticing everyone to clap and providing the ideal ending to the emotionally charged evening.
Armstrong encapsulated the project, saying “I have an incredible and overwhelming feeling of gratitude from the performers who had never participated in an event like this before, to YoungArts for giving us the opportunity to do this project to Damien’s mother seeing the film for the first time.”
Her ultimate goal as the filmmaker was to get Damien in front of the crowd so they could make a connection with him, and to tell the story with compassion, in an accurate way to honor him and his mother’s strong relationship.