Lynwood Unified Students to Travel to Rwanda to Perform at Arts Festival

Cesar Chavez Middle School eighth-graders Zion Bennett and Jose Laguna will get their first taste of performing in front of an international audience when they journey July 3-16 to Rwanda to showcase their acting and writing talents as a part of the District’s Building Relationships and Inspiring Dialogue through Global Exchange (BRIDGE) Theatre Project.
The Lynwood students will perform a play written by Rwandan students at the annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival, while Rwandan students will perform “Great Minds Think Alike,” an original Lynwood production co-written by Bennett about overcoming negative thoughts.
“I’m really excited to learn about the Rwandan culture and to ask them about their language,” Bennett said. “This will be the first time I’ve traveled by plane so it’s a whole new experience for me.”

A year ago, a play written by Abbott Elementary students was performed by Rwandan students at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival to rave reviews. This year is the first time Lynwood students have been invited to join the festival, courtesy of the U.S. Embassy - Kigali. Bennett and Laguna were chosen from over 500 District students who participated in the program this year.
“Zion and Jose are two veterans of the BRIDGE program who have continually inspired others through their ideas and performance,” BRIDGE Theatre Project cofounder Joe Quintero said. “They are great ambassadors of the program who will promote cultural awareness.”
Bennett and Laguna will be joined on their travels by Quintero and cofounder Adam Kalesperis, as well as two teaching artists and two parent chaperones. The group will get the opportunity to tour the city of Kigali, where the festival is held, and interact with Rwandan students.
“Writing and acting have helped me express myself. I’m interested to ask the students about the effect that it’s had on them,” Laguna said. “I can’t wait to get to the festival to experience everyone performing.”
Through the BRIDGE Theatre Project, Lynwood Unified students in grades four through eight learn to write short plays, perform plays and study other cultures. The program provides workshops over eight weeks for about 500 District students each year.
“Giving our students the opportunity to express themselves artistically has improved self-confidence and helped them blossom,” Lynwood Unified Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “It’s such an honor to have our District represented in Rwanda, and we wish Zion, Jose, and all of those traveling a safe and successful journey.”
The District has partnered with the BRIDGE Theatre Project for four years, teaching students the basics of improvisation, character creation, vocal technique, writing conflict and dialogue, and how to collaborate with other writers and actors.
The company is currently raising funds to cover a portion of this summer’s expenses. For more information, and to donate, please visit