Chicago’s CircEsteem uses circus arts to empower young people

By Alissa Anderegg

When Antoinette Mpawenayo, 17, first came to Chicago from Tanzania, she struggled with the language and the culture.  “English is not my first language,” she said. “I was bullied by students at school.”

Her  refugee caseworker saw something in the way she moved around and suggested she join a circus program that had helped other young people like her. Antoinette is now a key performer in CircEsteem, a non-profit that has taught circus arts to more than 10,000 youths in the Chicago area.

Founded in 2001, CircEsteem’s social impact mission aims to build confidence in young people like Antoinette, and create a sense of community among its diverse performers.

Photo at top: CircEsteem students perform in their showcase performance. (Alissa Anderegg/MEDILL)