Sometimes comedy does more than just offer a few laughs but instead it changes lives. For Comedy Hype correspondent Nika Simone (Arnika Hughes), she has found a place where she can merge her love for comedy and her wanting to uplift communities. With her program Stand-Up In The Halls, she has used her prior experience of a probation officer and network of comedians to find a way to better connect with the youth. Here’s an inside look at Stand-Up In The Halls.
CH: Why Did You Decide To Become A Probation Officer?
NS: Well its easier to talk about stuff then to put up actual ideas for how to change things. Everyone wants to post these memes, everyone wants to hashtag something about how thins should change but look inside your own self on being the change. My way of being the change is that I became a probation officer to get to these kids at their level. I’m not in their streets, so I had to go where they were at. I first started doing it 8 years ago. Before that I was working at a charter school. I was working with those kids then but then it got to a point, “How can I do this at a grander scale?” So I look at it as you have to get in these positions to be the change not just marching. How about become law enforcement? How about getting in those positions that you are complaining about? Those positions have to be filled, and if we want to be blind that there is still racism going on in America then these people are getting in those positions.
CH: How Did Your Transition In Entertainment Come About?
NS: Well I went to college for TV and radio but something clicked one day. If I was going to instill in the kids to go after their desires and dreams, what better way to do it than to show them how to do it. Get out their and actually go after your own dreams.
It was those voices from the kids telling me I should be doing something more…. Here I am encouraging them to go after their dreams and here they are encouraging me to go after mine
CH: At What Point Did Stand Up In The Halls Come Together?
NS: I remember when I first started working that Kobe Bryant donated a full basketball court and he came and did the ribbon cutting. I would hear about Jamie Foxx coming to Central Juvenile Hall and he spoke with the kids on a couple occasions. You would just hear about different entertainment figures who would come through and those kids would remember that. I was just sitting one day and thinking I’m meeting all these great people, and I thought “How great would it be to bring them by?” I especially saw what could be done when I was doing my radio show and a person like Slink Johnson of Black Jesus would come on and he told us his story about coming up in the halls and even going to prison. That’s a great story that I think somebody needs to hear. Comedian London Brown (Host of The Nika Simone Show) who came up in the streets but decided not to be apart of a gang and got more involved in the arts. Comedian Terrence Delanne who speaks for us, and sharing how he was in juvenile hall. I want these kids to hear these stories. What better way than to encourage them through someone else story who has walked what you walked.
CH: What New Energy Are You Looking To Add With Stand-Up In The Halls?
NS: I’m still bringing in comedians but this time around I’ve been approached by others outside of comedy like Trap Kitchen. Trap kitchen is a company started by a Blood and Crip gang members who are in the catering business. This time around it’s about making moves for the actual change. Now I’ve connected with people who have similar stories that have their own business to offer internships to the minors.
CH: Does Doing Something Like This Ever Get Tough?
NS: It get’s frustrating sometimes when you don’t see the support or lack of things happening. But there’s moments that keep you going. There was one female minor who ended up telling people that she wanted to be like me and go after her dreams. That hit me hard. For that young lady to even come up to me was a moment I reflected to get my mind right because you don’t know who you are touching. You never know who. Those are those moments. In law enforcement we might get a bad rap because of others but a lot of hearts are in it to help community. Before that minor told me that she wanted to go after her dreams because of me, I was at a point I wanted to quit.
CH: What’s The Best Way For Someone To Help Stand-Up In The Halls At This Level?
NS: The county provides everything for the minors but we always welcome donation. I would bring in shampoo conditioner, body wash deodorant, tooth paste and lotion. Those simple things would just brighten their day. We give each minor their own set of toiletries. It shows them somebody cares. We have a PayPal ID: StandUpInTheHalls@Yahoo.Com and I can go to the store to buy all the products. Everyone that comes by is volunteering their time and doesn’t get paid for this. Past speakers included Slink Johnson (Black Jesus), London Brown (HBO Ballers), Rip Michaels (Wild N Out), DC Ervin (Last Comic Standing), Aida Rodriguez (Last Comic Standing), Tiffany Haddish (The Carmichael Show), Terrence Delane ( All Def Digital), D’Lai (Tours with Bill Bellamy), Alphonso Mcauley (Fat Albert), and more.
CH: What’s Next For The Program In The Coming Year?
NS: We are looking to do a Stand Up In Th Halls Improv program, to be down weekly in the juvenile hall system. We want to help tech public speaking, confidence, script writing, and acting. The whole point is to build self- esteem. London Brown has already agreed to help teach and we are currently looking for other comedians who want to be apart of it.
I don’t want to come in there just to make them laugh for the day and then forget about them . I want them to build some skills up, find their gifts, and build their confidence to go out there and stand strong in these streets. And hopefully be able to chance their peers or even some of their family members.
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