Geva Theatre Center presented its 2019 Essie Calhoun Diversity in the Arts Award to actress, spoken word artist, social activist and educator Reenah Golden and the Center for Youth’s Strings for Success program.
The award was named in honor of Essie Calhoun-McDavid, retired chief diversity officer, director of community affairs and vice president of Eastman Kodak Co. Calhoun-McDavid received the first award in 2011, which annually goes to a person and/or organization that promotes and encourages diversity in the arts.
“Reenah Golden, as an individual, and the organization Strings for Success, led by Patty Yarmel and Gretchen Judge, exemplify the dedication it takes to make a difference in people’s lives — especially children,” said Mark Cuddy, Geva artistic director. “Their inclusive approach has made our community a richer place to live, and they are worthy recipients of the award that personifies its namesake, Essie Calhoun-McDavid.”
Golden is the founder and artistic director of The Avenue Blackbox Theatre, where she is working with the community to transform an art-deserted quadrant with collaborative, multidisciplinary, socially conscious programming. For nearly 20 years, Golden has used the stage to educate, effect social change and create new ways of thinking.
The Rochester native co-founded Kuumba Consultants, an arts-in-education agency that matches artists of color with youth agencies and schools seeking quality arts and cultural programming, and founded Slam High, a performance poetry program for teens.
In 2016, Golden designed and founded the Achieve Blackbox theater at PUC Achieve Charter School to promote literacy, cultural responsiveness and community engagement. Her youth performance troupe, the noDrama club, resides at The Avenue Blackbox Theatre.
Strings for Success started in 2008 to positively influence children’s lives through the study of violin. The program began with 16 students, a collection of donated violins and the belief that all children should have the opportunity to benefit from music.
Now in its 11th year, Strings for Success serves more than 100 students annually and with more than 150 donated instruments. It is credited with increasing school attendance, promoting healthy peer relationships, developing a love of learning and fostering positive goals for the future.
Students are encouraged to audition for School of the Arts to continue their musical studies. To date, 26 students have been accepted. Strings for Success is led by program director Patty Yarmel and music director Gretchen Judge.