Two Journeys, One Cause: Cross Cultural
|Caliph Muab’El is the executive director of Breaking Barriers Mentoring,
which is co-sponsoring Two Journeys, One Cause: Cross Cultural
Healing in the Pursuit of Justice at Memorial High.
By Jonathan Gramling
As we sit in a conference room on W. Gilman Street, it is difficult
for me to imagine that Caliph Muab-El had at one point served half
of his life behind bars at such a young age. Muab’El, the executive
director of Breaking Barriers Mentoring, speaks deliberately about
the things that young people face, particularly their isolation from
the broader world. It is perhaps that isolation and lack of exposure
to the broader world — as well as the talent that lay within him —
that led to Muab’El’s imprisonment by the age of 15 in a supermax
facility where he was considered one of the “worst of the worst.”
He spent 10 of his 15 years in prison in solitary confinement and
was released when he was 30-years-old and determined to spare
young African Americans and others “the loss of life” that he
Muab’El and Breaking Barriers implement projects that allow
students to see the higher ground of society and within themselves.
“Our goal is to help the kids maximize their personal potential by
showing them how to cultivate relationships and diverse experiences,” Muab’El said. “We have an ‘out-of-the-box’ approach with youth. We
are based on my experiences. I am able to relate to them on a different level and recruit like-minded people to work with them as well. We
want to expose them to a broader audience, a broader community and not allow them to be trapped in the clusters of one kind of narrative. We
want to expand their minds, expand their thinking, expand their experiences and you’ll get greater results from these kids who are challenged.”
Last fall, Breaking Barriers teamed up with UW-Madison’s First Wave to host Madison Schools Got Talent with legendary musicians Kurtis
Blow and Juan de Marco González handing out awards.
“The kids were able to display their talent and we were able to narrow it down to three main acts, first, second and third place winners,” Muab’
El said. “Out of that experience, one of the kids who was a second place winner in that competition received a full scholarship to UW-Madison
First Wave. That kid, ever since then, has been everywhere. So it is exposing them to things like that, to people like that, industry people they
look at as celebrities, people they don’t know who are celebrities. It’s also about creating opportunities for kids to participate in that they can
relate to and keep their attention and keep them engaged.”
This spring, Breaking Barriers and UW OMAI have been teaming up again with members of the Black Student Union at Memorial High School to
create an experience that will lift members of the group out of their “normal” educational experience and help transform their lives. As a part of
his appearance at UW-Madison for OMAI and First Wave, Hector Aristizabal, an internationally-renowned theater artist and psychologist who
suffered torture at the hands of the U.S. backed military in his native Medellin, Colombia in the 1980s, has been interacting with the Memorial
students via Skype as part of a spring-semester project.
“He is the physical embodiment of hero, in my book,” Muab’El said. “He was a victim of torture. He was in concentration camps. He emerged
from that not with bitterness, but with the wherewithal and zeal to promote love and unity in the world amongst humanity. The kids are in awe of
Hector. He is just a phenomenal soul and spirit. He relates to them really well. I think when he does materialize in the flesh for them that it will
be a powerful experience.”
The project is called “Two Journeys, One Cause: Cross Cultural Healing in the Pursuit of Justice.” The first journey culminated in the BSU
members taking a trip to Atlanta over the spring break to visit the HBCU campuses.
“Our goal was to remove them from their current situation and circumstances and expose them to a different environment where opportunity
exists all around them,” Muab’El said. “We want to saturate them in opportunity as opposed to disparity, poverty and all of that kind of stuff.
That was one of the journeys. From Madison to Atlanta is one journey.”
And the second journey is Aristizabal’s journey to Madison to show the students that they can transcend their negative experiences and
backgrounds to live a full life. The culmination of this work will be a free performance called 2 Journeys, 1 Cause on April 9, 7 p.m., at
Memorial High School. First Aristizabal will perform his one-man show called Nightwind, which reenacts Aristizabal’s torture at the hands of
the U.S. backed troops. The second act is called The Sankofa Experience: Our Journey, Our Future, Our Cause that will theatrically reflect on
the students’ trip to Atlanta.
“Hector will do a show with our kids that would embody their experiences going on the HBCU trip and also the pressures they bear, their
emotions, their traumas and all of that kind of stuff will be able to come out in this production,” Muab’El said. “It should have a powerful impact
And give an expanded perspective on the students’ lives and their journeys through life.