Teaching Youth to Use Art for Social Justice

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Arts Education increases learning engagement, self-confidence, and cultural acceptance; it empowers our Youth to discover their voices and speak out through creative expression, so one day they will be the leaders our community wants to see. Today, our Youth Development Program is transforming young people’s lives by providing quality arts education opportunities. It is because of our strong arts component that our Youth Development Program was recognized by former First Lady Michelle Obama with the 2016 NAHYP Award


Teens from our Youth Development Program circle up for a workshop.

“They’re our future,” said Youth Development Program Director, Lauren Bard. She explained the structure of the program and its reward, “We start in October & hire these 20 youth and start to build a culture into our sessions.”

The culture Bard spoke about begins largely in the Youth’s Monday Circle Culture meeting, where the teens share their perspectives on difficult topics and their personal struggles. Bard described the benefits of this practice on a weekly basis as “a chance for everyone to share and practice support.” She added, “We see them build these supportive relationships with each other and the staff and it’s really powerful. They’re taking more risks, letting their personalities shine, and being themselves a little more – and it’s really evident in the work they produce.” 

This work includes both individualized and collective art projects – videos, paintings, spoken word poetry, costume making, and whatever else these young activists can create. The students draw inspiration from their lessons and exploration of topics related to politics, history, and social justice.

For instance, Cristalle de Jesus, a current Youth Development Program Participant, said that before working with YDP she didn’t really like poetry, but now, it has become her favorite artistic medium, “Poetry expresses so much in such a beautiful way.” And as for drawing inspiration from her lessons, Cristalle explained why learning about topics surrounding social justice and equality motivate her to speak out, “It makes me aware of what’s happening. I’m seeing all the wrong that’s being done and I want to make a change if I can – and this job is opening up my eyes more and more to see that I can make that change.”


Matt Parker conducts a poetry workshop with IBA’s youth.

Bard emphasized the importance of these programs for teens, “They need to build their awareness about situations. It’s an intro to politics and relationships. These things affect them. For them to put their experiences into the larger context and how they may effect what is going to happen in the future. For them to be good citizens they need to be aware of how these things work.”

“IBA was a part of me growing up, I grew up through the programs here,” said Matt Parker, a former Villa Victoria resident, IBA board member, and Youth Program participant. Parker shared his own story & connection to the program, noting how “IBA has grown, changed, and shifted.”

“I remember at a point where the arts weren’t the focal point of youth,” Parker paused to explain that his participation in the program included being a public safety peer leader, ”but now to see arts as a staple of the youth program is really really amazing.”

Today, Parker has become the perfect example of the positive outcome our program has on our young people. As a Boston community leader, Parker divides his time between working as a trauma responder in the Dorchester community, teaching spoken word, and being a traveling spoken word performer; and somehow, he also found the time to combine his passions – poetry, community, and social justice – to create the Society of Urban Poetry (or SOUP) Boston.


Youth collaborate on writing poetry.

“[SOUP] is a poetry collective. Made up of people from different intersections, [we] have a mission of uniting Boston artists and also being able to tangibly grasp hold of social justice issues and bring them to the forefront through using spoken word and poetry as their vehicle.”   

This Friday, SOUP Boston is giving our Youth the opportunity to share the stage with influential spoken word artists during our Black History Month Celebration; which is why Parker visited our Youth Development Program to teach a poetry workshop this past week. 

“The beautiful thing about Friday is that SOUP isn’t just about the people in SOUP, it’s SOUP and Company. So, it’s going to be what I present as Mistah Parker and being able to grab friends from different avenues of life and from different avenues of poetry; [they’re] coming back home with me to the Villa Victoria and [we’ll be] able to share some poetry that relates to our history, black history, civil rights, and social justice.”

Parker invited everyone from the Boston community to be a part of Friday’s celebration of black history and culture, “We’re just going to share and receive the energy that we hopefully reflect back to the people.” To RSVP, click here.

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