“My dream is for my children to be millionaires so they don’t have to work for nothin’ like me.”
So says the father of a murdered young black boy in Dexter Singleton’s play Little Brother, a solo work with 15 roles. Singleton plays all 15.
The murder didn’t happen, yet it might have, and the next real-life murder may yet be avoided through art-inspired social change.
That’s one reason Singleton and his Collective Consciousness Theater were hailed as one of the city’s “unsung heroes.”
The laurels, along with $4,000 awards, were presented to Singleton by Morris and Irmgard Wessel and their family at a celebration and performance at the Fair Haven School Black Box Theater Saturday afternoon before an audience of 40 admirers. It was the annual Wessel Prize ceremony.
Two other designated winners were Junta at Big Turtle Village and Solar Youth. The former is a one-week summer youth camp organized by Rafael Ramos in the forests of Eastern Connecticut for 60 low-income kids who might never have an opportunity to sleep under the stars. Solar Youth is a leadership and environmental training after-school program that began in the Westville Manor housing project and now reaches more than 200 kids.
Morris Wessel, age 94, worked as a beloved pediatrician in New Haven for 43 years. He helped establish the danger levels of lead for children and was instrumental in creating the first hospice in Connecticut.
When he retired in 1993, a fund was set up, administered by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, to honor what his son Paul Wessel called “unsung heroes, unsung leaders” in the city whose work benefits children and families.
According to Paul Wessel, the designees are “people who are doing things to help other people in New Haven for whom the honor and the modest award will make a difference.”
Rafael Ramos said Big Turtle Village is going to use the money to buy badly needed new tents and replace old equipment. Solar Youth environmental educator Robbie Goehrke said the money will go for general support of the environmental workshops for the kids, whose age range now goes from little ones to 18. Singleton said the award will support theater workshops his company does in conjunction with Easter Seals programs in the Hill.
Before the three honorees performed, Solar Youth’s 12-year-old Destiny Little chatted with Dr. Wessel about her wanting to be a pediatrician herself.
“I don’t like to see children in pain,” she said.
Dr. Wessel said that is all well and good—but is Destiny prepared to make house calls? “You have to get up in the middle of the night,” he warned her.
No problem. “I get up at 6 to get the bus to school,” she said.
The Wessel grants have been given out since 1993. The amount varies and is determined by the interest the funds produce.