Detroit’s Teen HYPE celebrates 20th anniversary with stage play ‘Strung’

Teen HYPE is a nonprofit organization that helps Detroit’s youth by curating programs focused on preventing teen pregnancy and substance abuse while also educating youth on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. This year marks its 20th anniversary.

CEO and co-founder Ambra Redrick is reflective of the journey. “It’s a little surreal,” she says. “There are over 59,000 nonprofits in Southeast Michigan, many of which are underfunded and don’t have staff. To be a Black-founded and -led organization in Detroit that is thriving most days feels like a miracle.”

Teen HYPE services over 2,000 youth yearly and in 2023 they received a portion of $68.5 million in funding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allocated to 53 organizations as a part of its Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program.

“We also just completed a three-year project to develop a city-wide action for youth,” Redrick adds. “The Detroit Youth Action Plan is the first of its kind and we’re just getting started. We aim to change the narrative about adolescence in our city.”

Redrick feels Teen HYPE has grown and progressed simultaneously as the city of Detroit has sought to redefine itself. She’s made it a point to make sure the plight of Detroit’s youth stays a concern.

“I think as a city we have been busy, ‘fixing, revitalizing, and creating,’ and as a collective I think we forgot to prioritize the needs of young people,” Redrick adds. “In a city where we have created safe and supportive spaces for teens, we have been that for thousands of kids.”

As part of celebrating its 20th anniversary, Teen HYPE is presenting the stage play Strung, a production centered on the manipulative layers of social media and how they affect self-esteem, addiction, and parental relationships. The play debuts on Thursday, April 19 at Detroit’s Marygrove Theatre.

“Our goal was to create a production that spoke to youth and Teen HYPE always makes sure that every story that we tell raises awareness for some issue that youth face,” says Mallory Childs, a participant and youth advisory council president for Teen HYPE.

The play centers around two teens. First there is Aaliyah, a teenage girl who watches her mother use social media to define her beauty standards.

“She [Aaliyah’s mom] has a lot of cosmetic surgery and eventually the cosmetic surgery hurts her,” says Childs. “She sees her mom hurting herself just so she can look like someone that she’s not.”

For the teenage boy lead character, social media acts as an inner voice that’s constantly nudging him into making bad decisions.

“We see Rob and his negative influence is ‘X,’” Childs says. “‘X’ is basically like a walking problem; he causes problems wherever he goes. He makes Rob do all these crazy outlandish things.”

The production comes at a time when social media platforms have been receiving more scrutiny for their impact on the mental health and morale in children.

“During the beginning process we realized that social media can really attack the minds, souls, and body of our youth,” adds Childs. “And we realized that it attacks people in different ways depending on what your gender is, depending on your socioeconomic class.”

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