For the past 15 years, Educational Studies professor Bob Krajewski has taught and advised the multiple award- winning Social Action Theatre, which changed its name to Leadership in Action in Spring 2012. The name change better reflects the student organization’s activities and value, as it is intended to provide its student members social justice leadership opportunities.
Leadership in Action students address social justice, diversity, civil rights, varied isms, social problems, school issues by performing audience interactive short, student designed skits. LIA is continually invited to perform in university classes and residence halls, K-12 schools (diversity days and others), community colleges, Rotary clubs, New Horizons, Nursing and Assisted Living homes, women’s resource shelters, YMCA after school programs, social and business agencies, youth groups, Boys and Girls Clubs, Fort McCoy’s Challenge Academy, and churches in the area, regionally, and nationally, as well as Civil Rights Movement affiliated churches in the South. To date LIA has performed for more than 54,000 people.
LIA provided diversity training for groups as Accenture, Washington D.C. Transit
Authority, and other states’ schools and groups, and at the Hmong International
Conferences, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
international conference, and NCORE international conference.
Krajewski's networking allowed LIA to have performed in majority and
minority schools in the D.C. area, Milwaukee, Memphis, Chicago, Nashville,
Birmingham, Atlanta, Santa Fe, Seattle, Minneapolis, Tuscaloosa, Louisville,
Wales, and even China.
LIA sponsors Freedom Rides to Nashville TN, Huntsville AL, Birmingham AL, Memphis TN, Atlanta and Carrollton GA, and Chattanooga, TN. In each area, students work with Civil Rights Movement leaders. In Nashville, LIA performed in Bernard Lafayette’s church. Rev. Lafayette was then president of the American Baptist College and pastor of the housing area church. In the Civil Rights Movement, he helped lead marches and sit-ins, and served as Martin Luther King’s representative for registering blacks to vote in Selma AL, a job that almost cost him his life. LIA performed in a Nashville PDS Middle school and several other Nashville minority schools too.
In Nashville Kwame Lillard (1960-62 student leader of Nashville CRM marches and sit-ins, former Nashville government representative, and active president of the African American Cultural Alliance) and Bob led LIA marches several times to the Tennessee legislative building, and on the 2008 trip all 45 UWL participants were invited to the Tennessee Senate floor where Kwame and Bob made speeches supporting honorary doctorate degrees to former CRM sit-in students who were dismissed from Tennessee State University during CRM. Two months afterward those former students received doctorates from the Tennessee Board of Regents, chaired by Governor Bredeson, former Nashville mayor. Bredeson and Kwame spearheaded the large plague which is attached to the front of Nashville city hall, declaring that never again will events happen to blacks as they did before.
Kwame arranged for three of the Nashville sit-in/march participants to return to talk with LIA in the Nashville library, and lead us on a tour of the original Nashville sit-in stores. In addition, we spent time with Kwame and his colleagues at HBCUs Fisk, Meharry, and Tennessee State.
Krajewski made a video of Lafayette describing his treatment and almost loss of life in Selma, and shares that with his classes.
In Huntsville AL LIA met with Sonny Hereford, an MD whose son was the first minority enrolled in a white AL elementary school. For that privilege, AL revoked his medical license.
In Birmingham, LIA worked with Operation New Birmingham, and upcoming CRM leader, Rev Anthony Johnson, and together they made history. In 2008 LIA, CRM pastors, legislators, and sit-in/marchers made the first CRM march in Birmingham(police escorted) since MLK wrote his famous ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ in 1963. LIA also sponsored a tribute to Rev Fred Shuttlesworth [‘the fire that couldn’t be put out,’ co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and founder of the Alabama Movement for Human Rights] at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where Fred’s commemorative statue resides in front of that building. On their Freedom Rides they performed at Phillips (former high school where when Shuttlesworth tried to enroll his children he was severely beaten and his wife stabbed- and that picture gained worldwide attention), and various Birmingham CRM affiliated churches, including New Pilgrim Baptist Church and 6th Ave Baptist Church, and also had an opportunity to meet with Chris McNair, father of one of the four girls killed in the famous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. In 2010 LIA co-sponsored Rev. Johnson’s visit to UW La Crosse and the La Crosse community.
In Carrollton GA, LIA performed for the NAACP, and Bob and the area NAACP leader held a televised debate.
In Atlanta, LIA students performed in schools, visited Martin Luther King’s crypt, church, and museum, and were the guests of honor at a two hour presentation by CRM revered Rev. C.T. Vivian at HBCU Clark Atlanta University.
In Chattanooga, LIA performed in the CRM affiliated New Monumental Baptist Church.
In Spring semester, 2012, LIA received the award for Multicultural Event of the Year. Previous awards included Outstanding Involvement by a Student Organization, Senior Excellence Award, and a special award from UW-L’s Black Student Unity.
In the past 15 years 50-80 students participated in LIA each semester.
Bob divides students into groups of five or six. Skit topics are student
selected or suggested/requested by audiences for whom we perform.
With input and feedback from other groups and the advisor, each group
brainstorms, develops, and refines skits during the semester. Students are
encouraged to share their own experiences while developing the scripts and
brainstorming new topics.
Much time is spent practicing, critiquing and revising skits as students prepare for performances. They often play roles that are not necessarily congruent to their personalities, which allows them opportunity to experience life from a different perspective--sort of 'walking in someone else's shoes.'
The spontaneous nature of the skits brings a fresh feeling to the performances. Skits are short, usually 1-3 minutes in length, and are followed by an interactive discussion session, in which audience members ask questions of the actors who answer while staying in their respective roles. Thus there is immediate feedback and audience involvement. Presentations and interaction/feedback sessions often are therapeutic, helping both students and audiences to process their feelings after the performance.
Initially, the organization originated to educate UW La Crosse students and staff about diversity issues. Under Bob’s guidance, the current emphasis is on leadership training, thus developing students to be more effective in advocating change and acceptance. Further emphasis includes expanding the sphere of influence by reaching wider audiences.
As mentioned, LIA students spend a lot of time and energy working on developing and performing their skits. Each semester new students enroll, complemented by a small core of continuing students who act as guides/mentors. Thus, the group is continually evolving, ensuring both continuity and freshness of ideas for skits to present and audiences to whom they present.
The beauty and worth of Leadership in Action is its own diversity in terms of student background, vocational aspirations, gender, etc. The advisor uses that diversity as strength to help students learn and grow.
And what do the LIA students think of their organization? Sample statements include:
Tyler Heck (teaching), a 3 year LIA member—Leadership in Action is the experience of a lifetime. The skits we perform force people to think about, ask, and answer tough questions that are otherwise ignored. Our skits are relate to everyone we perform for and it makes them think about those experiences, good or bad. LIA is a great experience that I recommend for any student at UW-L
Katelyn Mazza (CLS), a 2 year LIA member—LIA to me means Leadership (becoming a leader within teams), awareness (of real life events/situations), growth ( as a person, speaking confidence, who you are), confidence (in who you are), and teamwork (being a team and making friends)
Nick Thuot-Petkovich (CBA), a 2 year LIA member--LIA, to me, is an opportunity to extend myself beyond the general campus community. I think that this group has done wonders to initiate tough conversations amongst those fortunate enough to see a performance. The awareness that has been spread through LIA is nothing short of outstanding.
Sarah Gagnon (SAH), a 3 year LIA member---To me, LIA is all about the interactions with the students. It’s a way to open students’ eyes to issues they face every day in a way that allows conversation that will facilitate change.
Alyssa Pizzoferrato (SAH), a 1st year LIA member—Leadership in Action is a great experience. It has allowed me to learn about other people’s personal experiences and become more active in the La Crosse community. While doing the skits, you also come to understand different perspectives, like for example, a bully who has different ideology than yourself.
Saeng Yang (SAH non-traditional), a 2 year LIA member—LIA lets you see from other people’s perspective on everyday life issues, and shows interventions for everyday issues. LIA is the best experience I am having here at UW-L because LIA makes you understand why do we, and how do we, perceive our social issues.
Annie Fularczyk(SAH teaching), a 1st year LIA member—Through LIA I am able to make the audience more aware of what others are going through. These skits catch the attention of people who have never experienced what is acted out in the skits, and makes people who experience these things feel more comfortable in talking about it. It is amazing to see the reaction from the audience, and through this I have learned so much. Finally, it has helped with my speaking skills and made me more of a leader.
Kali Mehlhoff (teaching) a 2 year LIA member—WE always wish that those around us would understand what we are going through and they could understand what it is like to walk in our shoes. LIA is like a shoe store. It allows you to try on all sorts of shoes so even if you don’t settle on a certain pair or you try on many that don’t fit, you will never forget what it was like to wear that pair of shoes.
Michael Schiller (SAH) a 1st year LIA member—LIA provides an excellent opportunity to show kids’ real life situations from a perspective where they can just sit back, reflect, and truly understand what is going on. Many of our skits portray situations that happen under their noses every day that they may not be aware of. The questions asked by the kids really help them relate to and better understand the skits. It is a joy to be in LIA, especially when you brighten a kid’s day.
Mikayla Smith (SAC), a 1st year LIA member—LIA has been a wonderful experience. I found it has been a great opportunity to incorporate some of my own personal history into these skits to open the audience’s eyes to issues involving diversity. Every skit I have so performed has been on a topic relatable to my own life and it has been an amazing opportunity that has allowed me to experience some catharsis. LIA has helped me to grow as an individual as well as help bring attention to controversial social situations.
Stacy Miller (SAH), a 1st year LIA member—LIA has changed my life. Stepping into other shoes through these skits really makes a person grow a deeper understanding and acceptance with diversity. Now I am able to touch other’s lives and make them think with these skits.
Nate Noble (science teaching), a 1st year LIA member—Being in LIA I’m sort of reaching out to the younger generation, and even to people older than us. Topics we cover in our skits can sometimes be funny but mainly bring up important social situations. Actually performing the skits makes you see both sides of a conflict because you are actively involved in the hypothetical situation.
Talia Kramer (SAH), a 1st year LIA member—After being in LIA this semester, I have gained so much more than I expected to gain. I have learned how to become more vocal and outgoing in front of new people, and learned to better respect minorities and those who are not ‘normal’ by being able to connect to them in the skits. I have learned to respect others more by learning that every person has their own struggles. I have now learned to have an open mind whenever meeting people. I have also been able to teach those around me about different issues, thanks to this group.
Austin Wersal (teaching), a 1st year LIA member—As a future teacher I believe that diversity and the acceptance of differences among people are crucial life lessons. Promoting diversity and oppression awareness are important values to teach children at a young age, but these lessons aren’t only for developing children but for people of all ages. If people could learn to accept and respect each other’s differences, the world will become a more friendly and peaceful place. These skits help expose the oppression that resides in everyday scenarios and teach through hypothetical, yet very real examples.
Samantha Suckow (teaching), a 1st year LIA member—Being in LIA means voicing different issues and problems to the public. Personally it has helped me communicate more efficiently with others and has pushed me out of my comfort zone. I will continue to be in this group because it has made me a better person and is a great opportunity to only continue to grow.
Adam Treinen (teaching), a 1st year LIA member—LIA is important to me because I have gained experience talking in front of large groups and developed more confidence with public speaking. Also I have gained more awareness about the discrimination and trouble s some people face in their everyday lives. This benefits me in my future because as an educator one must be aware of what his or her students are experiencing and know how to talk professionally in front of a group.
Allison Kocik (teaching), a 1st year LIA member—LIA is a great experience that brought me out of my comfort zone. Not only does this program open my eyes to different situations I might encounter as a teacher, it also taught me how to talk in front of a crowd. This program brings all kinds of issues to light.
Matt Bjornstad (SAH), a 1st year LIA member—To me, being involved with LIA has made me a better rounded person and has opened my eyes to different forms of diversity issues in the world and has really showed me that these issues are around me every day.
Morgan Welborn (CLS), a 1st year LIA member—To me LIA is a learning experience where I have had the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and become a representative of everyday issues. It has opened my eyes to problems and how to deal with them in the best positive way by teaching others about them and their consequences.
Taylor Schafer (SAH), a 1st year LIA member—To me, being in LIA is about spreading awareness of difficulties and troubles in our world, and seeing the audience realize it. It was so amazing to see how angry and appalled my audience was at some of the content of the skits, like “people actually do this? Does this actually happen? And it opens their eyes and lets them know that things like that ARE happening around them.
Abby Suttner (teaching), a 1st year LIA member—LIA has allowed me to free myself from the fear of speaking in public and answering questions on the spot. I am grateful for this liberation as well as the opportunity to experience different situations brought about by various people. This has been a difficult challenge that I am proud to say that I have conquered.
Brandon Noble (CLS), a 1st year LIA member—Starting off, I just joined LIA because I wanted to satisfy my 10 hours for my EFN class and get out, but after a few performances, I began to realize there was a larger meaning in the tasks I was completing for the group. By tackling the issues raised by our skits, I began to realize that I was getting as much out of it as the people I was performing for, and it pushed me to do my best to accurately reflect the thoughts and emotions in the skits to make sure everyone involved was able to take away the best possible message from our performances.
Erin Richter (SAH)-- I am not in the class, however, listening to the planning and skits that they perform makes me realize how simple it is to become aware of the problems kids face, as well as help them. It gives me a good feeling that there are people like Bob who are willing to run and pay for things like this to help others.
Thank you for your interest in Leadership in Action.
You are the visitor to our site.