Fernando Cuello Garcia/Contributing Photographer

Ice the Beef, a New Haven-based anti-violence youth organization, is rehearsing to perform a rendition of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the city next year. 

Ice the Beef’s interpretation of the play is intended to incorporate themes of gun violence and organized crime seen in New Haven. Around 15 New Haven students from local high schools are involved in the performance. Chaz Carmon, who works with Ice the Beef, said that part of the trauma that the organization deals with is related to violence in the city and gang affiliation. 

“In ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ these two families are feuding, something that happens so often in inner city communities,” Carmon said. “In ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the teens die because of this familial feud.”

However, Ice the Beef envisions a different, less tragic outcome in its rendition of the classic play –– though the production is still in its early stages. After performing Shakespeare’s version of the play, Ice the Beef plans to have a rewind moment to an earlier scene. From there, the organization wants to present how the conflict in “Romeo and Juliet” could have been peacefully settled. 

According to Carmon, the purpose of this twist is to convey how gang-related issues can be mediated without force. The goal of Ice the Beef is to teach New Haven youth nonviolent ways to work out problems. 

“We’re teaching these kids how to handle problems at a young age,” Carmon said. “To prevent problems of gang affiliation that we’ve seen in the past in our communities, we have to invest in these kids and teens.”

Ice the Beef works with many middle and high school students across New Haven. Through bonding exercises, the initiative wants to teach these students strategies for anger management and positive decision making.

Manuel Camacho, a 10th grader at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, is the youth president of Ice the Beef. He grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, where he says the environment was heavily influenced by gangs and gun violence. 

“I grew up being molded into becoming a gang member,” Camacho told the News.  “It was my predetermined destiny. When I moved to New Haven, Ice the Beef led me to do things I never thought were possible. I’ve led Black Lives Matter marches and spoken at events for both Mayor Harp and Mayor Elicker.”

Elaine Lester, a recent graduate of Hillhouse High School, said that Ice the Beef transformed her into an adult.

According to Lester, as a child, she struggled to cope with her anger. Lester said she constantly found herself in fights and arguments, but the youth organization helped her learn how to handle her emotions without resorting to physical confrontation. 

“Ice the Beef helped me find my purpose,” Lester said. “It helped me open up and taught me how to use my voice and advocate for myself correctly.”

Carmon says that through this rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” Ice the Beef wants to continue teaching young people that violence is never the answer, and that their future is theirs to control.

Ice the Beef was founded by Darrell Allick in 2011. 

Bryan Ventura | bryan.ventura@yale.edu