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We see the success of our Youth Development Program in action every day. Created to foster emotional, intellectual, and artistic growth in young people, the program also builds lifelong relationships between peers and adults and encourages young people to pursue leadership roles in their community. Our commitment was recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2016 with the National Arts and Humanities Program Award. As we enter a new school-year cycle, we’ve highlighted a few of the many kids whose lives have been positively impacted by this program.

Eddy Mejia is a 17-year-old Villa Victoria resident. He came to the USA from the Dominican Republic with his two sisters during the summer of 2016, joining IBA’s Youth Development Program in October. He completed one full school and summer cycle with the program.

When Eddy began, he knew minimal English and had no friends in the neighborhood or at school. During both cycles, Eddy showed tremendous effort towards practicing his English during group circles, workshops and activities. He was always friendly and willing to learn. He participated in poetry slams, performing Spanish spoken word pieces in front of his friends, family, and community members. Along with his peers, Eddy helped serve food to people in need and worked on numerous art projects such as a short film, a photography presentation, and a flash mob.

By the end of his second cycle, Eddy was a lot more comfortable asking and answering questions in English and walked away with a group of friends and supporters.

Eddy Mejia, in a photo tribute to Trevon Martin.  Photograph by: Richelys Sanchez

Eddy Mejia, in a photo tribute to Trevon Martin. Photograph by: Richelys Sanchez

Yasmany (Manny) Mejia is a 17-year-old from the South End. He was a quiet, shy individual who began playing in the One Hood Peace Basketball league at the age of 13. Throughout the years, it was clear that he was a talented basketball player, but playing on a team was a challenge at first.

He was drafted to Coach Angel Lopez’s team, who taught Manny the importance of being a team player and collaborating with his peers. Manny earned more playing time with his positive attitude and Coach Lopez won two back-to-back OneHood Championships with Manny on his team.

Coach Lopez became the Youth Outreach Advocate at IBA in 2016, and through his encouragement, Manny enrolled as a Peer Leader in IBA’s summer program despite his hesitation at being involved in an arts program. Manny challenged himself, participating in a photography workshop and a sound art and recording workshop, learning new skills and finding the artist within himself.

Manny also continued his OneHood career in Summer 2017, and is fresh off winning his third title. He has become a role model for younger players in the league, demonstrating the importance of teamwork.

Yasmany Mejia, 3rd from the left, with the OneHood 2017 championship basketball team.

Yasmany Mejia, 3rd from the left, with the OneHood 2017 championship basketball team.

Erik Ramirez is an 18-year-old from the South End. He got involved at IBA through the OneHood Peace Basketball League when he was 14 years old and has played every summer since.  His coach, Angel Lopez, became an important mentor in Erik’s life. As Erik began struggling at his high school he began failing classes due to poor attendance.

With Angel’s support, Erik got connected to the BPS Re-Engagement Center and enrolled at the Boston Day and Evening Academy to make a fresh start. Erik has had an amazing turnaround in school and looks forward to graduating next year thanks to Angel’s support—and that crucial referral to the Re-Engagement Center.

In the summer of 2017, Angel encouraged Erik to join IBA’s Youth Development Program as a Peer Leader. Erik expressed how insecure he felt about his lack of knowledge in writing poetry, acting, and his fear of sharing his feelings with a group of strangers. With the help of teaching artists and IBA’s Youth Coordinators, Erik broke out of his comfort zone and started participating in every workshop and discussion.

He participated in a multi-media mural project about youth violence, which is currently mounted at O’Day Park. Erik was also part of the Performing Arts Workshop and was the star of the Ending Youth Violence Flashmob, performing in Downtown Boston and IBA’S End of Cycle graduation. He played a teenager who shot another teenager due to a miscommunication while selling drugs, later realizing he was becoming a victim to the system of mass incarceration.

At the end of the six weeks of programming, Erik was shocked by how much he learned this summer about social justice issues and performance art. He hopes to continue to be a positive and powerful leader in his community.

Erik Ramirez (seated) during the youth violence flashmob performance at the Franklin Steps, Downtown Boston.

Erik Ramirez (seated) during the youth violence flashmob performance at the Franklin Steps, Downtown Boston.

Applications for this year’s cycle have closed, but you can check our program page to learn how to get involved next season. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to watch our students’ progress and attend their events!

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