Joseph co-founded IMPACT in 1997 with his wife, Joyce, the screenwriter Alice Arlen and New Heritage Theater Group founding member Voza Rivers. At the time in Harlem, the “crack epidemic was ravaging the community and buildings were crumbling,” Joseph told The New York Times in an interview. “And that was when I decided to create an organization to help young people understand there are other ways out, other options, other tools.”
The performing arts company for teenagers began in the basement of a community center, and three of its original nine students were Joseph’s children; now, more than 1,500 students have taken part in IMPACT’s programs, which offer young people creative arts education in such disciplines as dance, music, writing and theatre, as well as leadership training in such fields as conflict resolution, human rights activism, drug prevention and community organizing. According to its website, the company “performs in front of over 25,000 people per year at venues ranging from the United Nations Headquarters, NYC's City Hall, hospitals, public schools as well as penitentiaries.”
Joseph, a former Black Panther who was recently interviewed in the critically acclaimed documentary The Blank Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution, told Encore.org that he has come to see his work with IMPACT as “a mission.” “It wasn’t just feel-good work or artistic-enrichment work,” he continued. “We were on the frontlines of a war, and this was life and death. I had to equip these kids with some skills that would save their lives.”
Joseph recently co-wrote and directed the feature film Chapter & Verse, which was selected for this year’s Urbanworld Film Festival in New York and was the opening night film of the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta.
The Purpose Prize, which recognizes efforts by people age 60 and older to effect positive social change, is now in its 10th year. Five other people were recognized for their work: Laurie Ahern, president of Disability Rights International; Patricia Foley Hinnen, founding CEO of Capital Sisters; Samuel Lupin, founder and medical director of Housecalls for the Homebound; the Rev. Belle Mickelson, founder and executive director of Dancing with the Spirit; and Laura Safer Espinoza, executive director of the Fair Food Standards Council.