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Columbia College Today March 2003
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My Columbia Connection and Amit
Roar, Lion, Roar
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Double Discovery
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Double Discovery Helps Bring Midnight’s Children to the Community


When the Columbia area becomes the “Great White Way North” upon the arrival of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children at the end of this month, the production’s impact will not be limited to those who purchase a ticket to the show.

Due to the work of the Double Discovery Center (DDC), one of campus’s leading community outreach programs, hundreds of underprivileged neighborhood high school students will not only go to a free performance of the play but also will attend lectures and presentations about the work, all in an effort to expose them to aspects of culture that they would not normally experience.

“President Lee C. Bollinger and Dean Austin Quigley asked us to be involved with the production when it came to New York, and we jumped at the chance,” said Olger Twyner, executive director of the Double Discovery Program. “This is an amazing opportunity for the students we work with to be involved with something that normally would not be available to them.”

The DDC, founded in 1965 by a group of College students dedicated to working with Harlem’s youth, is a not-for-profit service agency for low-income middle and high school students. The DDC targets those students who, by all statistical indicators, are at risk of not completing high school or ever entering college and offers academic, career, college, financial aid and personal development services year-round with the goal of increasing those students’ rates of high school graduation, college entrance and college completion. Almost all of the students would be the first in their families to attend college.

Of the approximately 1,000 students currently participating in the DDC, Twyner estimated that nearly 75 percent of them live below the nation’s poverty line. The average DDC student lives north of 96th Street in Manhattan and attends a high school that graduates only 34 percent of its freshman class, Twyner added.

“The DDC reaches out to the students who need it the most while giving about 100 Columbia students a year an opportunity to be more involved with their community,” Twyner said. “We’re helping these young people to achieve their dreams.”

For the past 35 years, the DDC has helped students graduate from high school and college at a rate significantly higher than the national average. The DDC has two major outreach initiatives: the Talent Search Program, which provides academic and career preparation, and the Upward Bound Program, which assists high school students in severe financial difficulty and was one of the initial projects in President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Counseling, tutoring, retreats and computer courses are staples of the DDC’s program. With Midnight’s Children, said Twyner — who has been with the DDC for five years — there is another chance to further the DDC’s reach. “It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” he emphasized.

Columbia and the University of Michigan commissioned the Royal Shakespeare Company to bring Midnight’s Children to the United States for the first time this month, after the play was initially presented in London in January and February. It will run in Ann Arbor from March 12–16, and the production will make its New York debut at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater on 125th Street from March 21–30.

The DDC’s involvement is part of an initiative by Bollinger making the time the play is in New York a celebration of Columbia’s presence in the arts and in the community. In addition to the performances at the Apollo, there will be a Humanities Festival featuring talks with Rushdie and the play’s cast, faculty from Columbia and elsewhere, and other dignitaries.

The March 25 performance of Midnight’s Children will be available exclusively for DDC students, but the DDC’s involvement is not limited to a single performance. Indeed, its students and volunteers also will attend several workshops run by Columbia teachers and artists to help connect them to the play.

The students also will be able to sign up for panels on creative writing and the theatrical process as well as for discussions that will prepare them for the March 25 performance. The lectures and workshops will draw upon a four-way partnership among the education department of the Royal Shakespeare Company, students and alumni of the School of the Arts, graduate students who teach Core Curriculum classes and the DDC staff.

“It will be a tremendous opportunity for the DDC students to learn from teachers who are completely involved in the arts and in this play in particular,” Twyner said. “We are hoping that this experience will have a profound impact on these kids.”

In addition to obvious benefits to local students, the Midnight’s Children programs sponsored by the DDC will pay dividends to the organization itself.

“Being involved with the production will provide greater exposure for the Double Discovery Center, which I believe is not as well known off campus as it should be, considering what a terrific program it is,” said Gerald Sherwin ’55, chairman of the DDC’s Board of Friends and president emeritus of the Columbia College Alumni Association.

“Being involved with a production of this magnitude, especially at a place like the Apollo Theater and with an organization like the Royal Shakespeare Company, will bring great publicity and recognition for the DDC in the greater Columbia area,” Sherwin added. “More people will become aware of what the DDC offers.”

Sherwin believes that the added exposure will help DDC with its fund-raising efforts, something that can only benefit Columbia and its neighbors.

“When you’re looking for funds, something like this is awfully impressive to have on your resume,” Sherwin said. “I anticipate that we’ll seen an increase in grants to the DDC, and that will allow it to continue — and further — its mission.”


Jonathan Lemire ’01 is a frequent contributor to Columbia College Today and a staff writer for The New York Daily News.





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