- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

The Boys & Girls Club of America wrapped a weekend-long national leadership conference yesterday in Northwest, including a performance troupe interpreting teen issues through song and dance.

The organization held its 39th annual National Keystone Conference, which began Thursday, at the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel. More than 1,800 youngsters from across the country and military bases around the world participated this year, said Jan Still-Lindeman, the organization’s senior director for public relations.

The conference was divided into workshops, in which moderators and participants tackled numerous issues facing young people, including careers, college, gang violence, money matters, U.S. leadership and community awareness.

The forums, while entertaining, were tempered with a dose of cautionary tales and advice, said Brian Le, 15, of Lowell, Mass.

“It’s been a good experience,” he said. “It alternated between educational and entertaining.”

His favorite part of the conference, he said, was a teen theater performance yesterday by MWAH Performing Arts Troupe, a Chicago-based dance team created as a gang alternative that urges teens to make smart, informed decisions.

“Especially the last part, the section about drunk driving, that one hit home,” Brian said.

For the drunken-driving segment, the dance troupe was joined onstage by Joanne Murdock. Her son, Ryan, was killed in a 2004 alcohol-related crash as a 19-year-old freshman at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

“If I can save one life by doing this, it’s the one thing I can do for Ryan,” she said tearfully. “If I could spare one parent the same pain that I feel today, then I am” successful.

The rest of the troupe’s provocative performance — which interspersed excerpts from Martin Luther King and versions of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” — focused on such issues as bullying, homophobia, racism and abusive teen-dating relationships.

The Keystone program is specifically designed for teen club members and consists of small, chartered groups. The clubs focus upon community service, leadership development, education and career exploration, unity, free enterprise and social recreation.

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