Evelyn Francis, MA ’01, traveled to Washington, DC, recently to accept an award from First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of the LGBTQ youth theater program she oversees.
True Colors: Out Youth Theater, a program of Boston-based The Theater Offensive and the country’s longest-running lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth theater program, received the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in November. Joining Francis at the White House to accept the award was Traeshyona “Trae” Weekes, 18, a True Colors participant.
“Being able to accept this award on behalf of the hundreds of staff members and thousands of young people that have built this program in collaboration with me over the years was a true honor,” Francis, The Theater Offensive’s director of programs, said in an email. “I hope this award helps students like me currently at Emerson College feel a sense of pride, hope, and support.”
Francis began working as a lead teaching artist for the True Colors program in 2001, as soon as she finished her MA in Theatre Education from Emerson. In 2006, she was hired as director of education for The Theater Offensive, which uses performances, workshops, social events, and public discussions to empower the LGBTQ community. She was promoted to director of programs in 2010.
The award, an offshoot of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school programs that “celebrate the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities,” according to the NAHYP website. Each year, 12 programs are selected to receive the award, which comes with a $10,000 grant and a year of operational and communications support aimed at strengthening the organizations.
“We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have,” Obama said at the ceremony. “And it is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours—not as ‘them,’ not as ‘other,’ but as ours. And that’s really the power of programs like these.”
True Colors is the first LGBTQ program ever to win an award in the NAHYP’s 19-year history, according to the organization. The program, founded in 1994, combines theater, dance, the arts, and activism to engage and empower LGBTQ teens and young adults.
This year’s 12 winners where chosen from a pool of more than 251 nominations and 50 finalists.