Press Release for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award
For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Cristy Johnston Limon, email@example.com, 415-722-6939
Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company Awarded By Federal Arts and Culture Agencies With Nation’s Top Honor
Recognized as one of the best creative youth development programs in the country
“In this political climate even though people feel silenced I don’t feel silenced. We are recognized for what we do, what we’re moving for.”
– Lael Jones, Performance Company student
Oakland, CA — Seventeen year-old Lael Jones was in the Nation’s capital today to accept an award from all three federal arts and culture agencies on behalf of the Destiny Arts Center Youth Performance Company or DAYPC, a program of Destiny Arts Center, a creative youth development organization that inspires and ignites social change through the arts.
The program was recognized for its effectiveness in promoting learning and life skills in young people through creative youth development programs. With nearly 25 years of history in Oakland, this exemplary after-school dance and performing arts program received the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for these programs. The awardees—chosen from a pool of 350 nominations and 50 finalists—were also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.
At a time when bullying, name-calling and hate speech has become normalized, Destiny youth continue to bring people together through their creative work, using their voices and taking the stage to promote love, equity, and inclusion.
“I believe that when we tell stories in honest, skillful, elegant ways, we inspire people to make change,” says Artistic Director Sarah Crowell, who founded the dance program at Destiny Arts and created the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company in 1993. As the youth company co-director with Rashidi Omari Byrd, Sarah, along with Destiny’s cadre of talented teaching artists, works countless hours with young people to develop their artistic voices, generate poetry, spoken word, song, and dance that relates their lived experiences and inspires diverse audiences to build a just and equitable society.
Lael understands what it’s like to be afraid, to be silenced. As a nine-year old, Lael found refuge from school bullying at Destiny Arts, discovering herself and building up her confidence through dance. Her mother Krea Gomez recalls, “She fell in love with dance. She would wake up dancing; everything she watched, everything she talked about was dancing. Bedtime on weekends only came from the exhaustion of dancing all day. It has been an amazing 13 years with Destiny, as Lael has taken classes since she was five years-old. Lael would have been a dynamic young person even if Destiny was not in her life, but oh, how Destiny has shaped her.”
Shaped her indeed, as Lael now hopes to inspire all to exercise their voices as part of a robust and inclusive democracy, reflecting her own personal journey in DAYPC. As part of the DAYPC scriptwriting team Lael wrote a poem “I was born without a voice” for the youth company’s full-length dance/theater production, co-created by DAYPC youth and Destiny’s suite of professional actors, dancers, and choreographers. Each year, about 25 teens perform in this dynamic, original production, diving deep into the social and political issues of our times, such as systemic racism, gendered oppression, cyber-bullying, community violence, and climate change, among other challenges they face.
As part of the creative process and working with peers and mentors, Lael transformed the poem into “Dear Racism,” in which she proclaimed, “I was born with a voice, as if there was a microphone tucked between my teeth,” and vowed to use that voice to defeat racism and speak on behalf of those too afraid to speak out for themselves. Lael not only learned that she was born with a voice, she also learned that she could use it to serve those without the confidence or the opportunities to exercise their own.
“The transformation we see in young people like Lael, who are facing so many challenges on their journey from childhood to adulthood, is why this work is so critical,” says Cristy Johnston Limon, Executive Director at Destiny Arts Center. “Young people are transcending borders, language, and circumstance as they develop into responsible, globally-minded citizens with a calling to make society better for all. Destiny is that place for thousands of young people who want to participate in society and we know they have something powerful to contribute.”
Lael leaves Destiny Arts believing in her gift, “Even though some voices may feel silenced right now, there’s always people who are willing to stand up and speak for others… if someone chooses not to exercise their voice or action that’s okay, but I invite them to join the conversation.”
About the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company
The Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company is a multi-racial group of teens that create dynamic productions in collaboration with professional artists, combining hip hop, modern and aerial dance, theater, song, and rap that express their experience, strength and hope for themselves, their communities and their world. Since 1993, DAYPC has performed for up to 25,000 audience members annually and has a strong reputation for creating excellent, original productions and performances. Historian, activist and author of A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn says, “I saw the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company do their thing on stage, and they were dazzling! A combination of wonderful talent, high energy, and social consciousness.” Author, activist and educator, Angela Davis, says, “The Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company is a politically astute, talented and visionary group of young people who combine political activism with cutting-edge cultural expression.”
The youth represent Oakland and the Bay Area’s rich and diverse cultural, socio-economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. As such, some struggle with challenging circumstances in their homes and communities. Over the past five years, 98% of DAYPC seniors have graduated high school and approximately 95% have pursued higher education, including careers in the arts. By comparison, Oakland’s high school graduation rate is 65%, and around half of Oakland youth who graduate high school attend college.
About Destiny Arts Center
Destiny Arts Center inspires and ignites social change through the arts. For almost 30 years, Destiny Arts Center has provided youth with excellent arts education programs in schools, communities and at its North Oakland arts center. Through dance, theater, martial arts, performance, self-defense, conflict resolution, and leadership training, Destiny programs develop young people into peaceful, powerful and creative young adults. DAC programs serve over 500 youth at the Center and up to 2,500 youth through residencies in dozens of K-12 schools in the San Francisco Bay Area with a focus on serving Oakland schools with the least access to the arts.
About the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award
First presented in 1998, the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards were presented through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in cooperation with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).