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  Monday January 26th, 2015    

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'The most powerful thing these students will do' (02/24/2014)
By Amelia Wedemeyer
WAPS Fortitude group presents annual play about compassion

Even with another day of cancelled classes, Winona Senior High School (WSHS) teacher Lora Hill and her students involved with Fortitude still made the snowy trek over to Gilmore Avenue to practice “If You Knew Me,” the student organization’s yearly performance.

“It’s about compassion,” Hill, who is also the group’s advisor, said of the performance piece that combines acting, singing, dancing, and spoken-word poetry. “It is the most real, the most powerful thing these students will do.”

Based on the Langston Hughes poem, “Theme for English B,” in which Hughes muses on what it means to live as a black American, the performance, Hill said, might alarm a few people, but for a just cause.

“It kind of starts off a little bit shocking,” Hill explained. “We are using words students use all the time that are offensive, and we’re going to try to address that.”

During the hour-long performance, students will tackle the issue of racism and the use of offensive language, which can easily permeate a student body if no one takes a stand and speaks up. It is this creation of awareness that keeps Hill and her students coming back each year and dedicating themselves to put together something the community can be proud of.

“It’s like having a baby,” she said, comparing the process of planning and putting on a new Fortitude performance each year. “At the end I say, ‘I’m done,’ but then all of a sudden someone comes up and says, ‘this is what we should do for next year’s play,’ and there you go.”

Not just a performance

With little funding, Fortitude, which stands for Forever On Route To Independence, Tolerance, Understanding, Development, and Education, takes on the large task of involving all students and confronting very real issues, even if they issues many people are hesitant to face.

“Fortitude is a group of students who are working towards social justice,” Hill explained. “That’s the premise under which we work to take on issues about racism, bullying, GLBT, awareness of all things.”

Along with the annual performance, Fortitude provides students with guest speakers, artists in residence, field trips and tutoring. Due to a lack of funds, Hill finds herself paying out of pocket to give students who might otherwise not have the chance to experience activities that ultimately enhance their view of the outside world.

“I want to empower young people of color. I want to empower students and I want the community to understand how incredible our students are,” Hill said.

Performances are Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., with an additional performance at 9 a.m. on Wednesday for students at WSHS. If you would like to donate to Fortitude, please send a check made out to Winona Senior High School Activities – Fortitude to 901 Gilmore Avenue, Winona, Minn., 55987. 


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