Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the National Arts and Humanities Youth Awards program at the White House. According to NAHYP, this awards ceremony recognizes outstanding after-school and out-of-school programs that are transforming the lives of young people. Programs that receive the award exemplify how arts and humanities programs outside of the regular school day enrich the lives of young people throughout the country by teaching new skills, nurturing creativity, and building self-confidence. These programs offer high-quality and intensive instruction on weekends, afternoons, and summer vacations, providing a safe and productive space for young people in the hours when they are often the most vulnerable.
First Lady Michelle Obama opened up the ceremony telling the youth award recipients of how proud she was of them, and how proud they should be of themselves. To the educators she said, “You know better than anyone else the effect that art can have on a young person’s life. Giving the child a chance to fill a canvas, or to perfect a harmony or to shine on stage, that can spark the flames of a lifelong passion. And it can teach valuable skills: skills like hard work and persistence. It can open up possibilities that young people might not realize for themselves. There are thousands of programs all across the country that are doing this kind of important work every day.”
She goes on to say:
“Today’s honorees go to programs who have found new and creative ways to give young people these opportunities. For example, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is providing instruments, mentors and classes to help young people experience music and the magic of orchestra at a very early age.”
“In Chicago, my hometown, Storycatchers Theatre is helping underserved young people in the juvenile justice system to write, produce and perform their own musicals based on their own personal stories.”
“In Los Angeles, Write Girl is matching at-risk young women with professional writers for one-on-one mentoring and coaching. These girls are learning to express themelves through poetry and journaling and investigative writing.”
“Every single one of the programs with graduating seniors has gone on to college. These are just a few examples of just how all of you are using the power of the arts to change our young people’s lives. As First Lady, you know that’s something I’ve been working hard to do every day in the White House. With the wonderful work of this phenomenal committee, we’ve been able to host youth workshops on everything from country music to modern dance to poetry.”
“In fact just a few weeks ago, we put together our Careers in Film Symposium, bringing some of the biggest and best in Hollywood. We brought together about eight students from Boston, New York, and Washington, all enrolled in film or arts programs. We did everything right here. We set up a green screen so they could learn about special effects. We brought in an award-winning director to work one-on-one with the kids. They were able to practice special effects makeup. It was clear that these students were beginning to truly understand that they really do have what it takes to make it in the movie business or anywhere else for that matter.”
First Lady Michelle Obama also points out the amazing work that these after-school programs are doing, and the importance of continuing to fund the arts.
There were a total of thirteen programs to receive the award. Among these programs were: Boston Children’s Chorus, CEPA’s Community Based Youth Education Program, IFETAYO Youth Ensemble, Investigating Where We Live, OrchKids, Pearl Bailey Youth Program, Project AIM (Arts in Motion), Project Discovery, Storycatchers Theatre Programs for Detained and Incarerated Youth, Summer Institute, Write Girl, Kuruka Maisha Foundation (International Spotlight award from Nairobi, Kenya).
Congratulations to all of the awards recipients!
Photo Credit: In the featured photo, courtesy of Ralph Alswang, First Lady Michelle Obama is honoring youth at the 2013 NAHYP Awards Ceremony – President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities.