As a performing artist and the learning and development lead for Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre, it’s my passion to further the mission of the program — to inspire underserved children, teens, and adults to make more informed decisions about their health and build stronger communities.
Educational Theatre visits elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the region to spread messages about combating racism, discrimination, and bullying, and to spark conversation around mental health, resiliency, healthy living, and more.
A couple years ago at Richmond High School we held a workshop called Resilience Squad, where we engaged a small group of students in discussions about stress management, healthy communication, and mindfulness. During the workshop we asked students what they saw in their community. A young Black girl raised her hand and said, “I see broken bottles and a lot of sadness.” This tore at my heart.
Over a year later, this girl recognized and stopped me at a store and told me I changed her life. She explained that the de-stressing tools we taught allowed her to utilize healthy coping skills instead of destructive ones and empowered her to improve her circumstances.
This is at the core of what I do, and why I’ve been doing it for 20 years at KP.
“My hope is to be a small part of the solution by helping young people think and dream bigger and differently. To celebrate themselves and be given the resources and opportunities they need to succeed.”
Kaiser Permanente has given me a platform as a Black artist to expand health equity to young people who need it most, through performance arts and education. An important part of what we do in Educational Theatre is create stories that address issues affecting the lives of the communities we perform for.
Experiencing a show or workshop with a cast of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian Pacific Islander, and other people of color allows students to understand our messages more deeply because they can see themselves in our characters. Representation matters. It breaks down barriers and gives students reassurance to have honest conversations about their struggles and be connected to the resources they need.
Growing up as a young Black, gay man in San Jose during an era when many LGBTQI+ youth didn’t have a sense of belonging was difficult. I am blessed to have a job where I can tell LGBTQI+ youth that it’s OK and beautiful to be your authentic self.
I am incredibly proud to work for an organization that prioritizes equity, inclusion, and diversity, and one that is committed to investing in the communities it serves.
One year after the death of George Floyd, I reflect on the work I set out to do more purposefully a year ago. After witnessing his death and the senseless killing of countless other people of color, including Breonna Taylor, I knew that change needed to happen in Kaiser Permanente — and even in our very diverse department.
As program manager of Nightmare on Puberty Street, I decided to more intentionally address race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and discrimination in our performances and workshops. We have now spread the importance of social justice to thousands of students in our program through messages of anti-discrimination, recognizing racism and microaggressions, and what it means to be an ally.
Although Kaiser Permanente is leading the way for more equitable communities in many ways, there is much more to do. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the drastic health disparities among underrepresented communities. Kaiser Permanente must focus its efforts on continuing to strive for equal access of health care, food, housing, and mental health care.
My hope is to be a small part of the solution by helping young people to think and dream bigger and differently — to celebrate themselves and be given the resources and opportunities they need to succeed.
Simon, 40, lives in San Francisco with his husband of 11 years. He attended California State University, Stanislaus and was a member of the inaugural class of the Teaching Artist Training Program at Lincoln Center Education in New York. He has been with Kaiser Permanente for 20 years in various roles. He is also the incoming artistic director for Theatre First, a company that believes in theatre as activism. In his free time, he instructs Zumba classes and is a member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.