Fostering youth and community resilience through the arts: a grantee spotlight of Destiny Arts Center

By the Destiny Arts Center

STEADY AND RESPONSIVE

During this unprecedented calendar year, Destiny Arts Center's work can be described in two key ways — steady and responsive. We have steadily continued to offer a robust schedule of financially accessible creative youth development programs in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have used the arts to foster youth and community resilience during this ongoing period of vulnerability and need.

Two weeks after Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, Destiny began facilitating virtual classes with 19 school partners. With our center's programs, such as virtual or outdoor rehearsals for our teen Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, Destiny was offering over 40 hours of weekly programs by the end of the 2020 school year. Now we have entered a new virtual school year in partnership with 25 Oakland schools, in addition to a full schedule of online classes for our center's students. In total, Destiny is offering over 86 hours of dance and martial arts programs to 1,450 young people (ages 3-18) per week, all of which are taught by the same dedicated teaching artists as before the pandemic.

We believe that Destiny's steady reach is due to our programs' relevance. Students, schools and families needed Destiny’s programs to sustain both creative learning and social-emotional connections. Our teaching artists responded by integrating even more time for community relationship-building into our classes, including more time to check-in and show-and-tell since feeling safe is a precursor to learning and part of young people's holistic development.

Then this summer, Destiny responded again as our young people cried out against anti-Black racism — supporting Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company members who organized their own social actions, launching our new “Creating Connections” virtual discussion series on topics such as "Youth Moving in Our World — Black Lives Matter" and assembling a youth-led Anti-Racism Task Force that will steer our own learning and evolution this next year. Over the past 30 years, our work has always centered on youth who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). This time is no different.

We cannot emphasize this enough: Multi-year funding from the George Family Foundation has supported our ability to remain steady and responsive during a year with so much need, especially among BIPOC communities and low-income households. Sixty percent of our center's youth claim some African descent, with 78% identifying as BIPOC. In our schools, over 80% of our students are BIPOC with around 30% identifying as African American or Black. Steady funding allows us to remain steady in our work as well. With your support, Destiny has been able to remain a community force at the intersection of culturally and socially responsive art and healing this year, worrying less about keeping our doors open and more about how we continue to be constant and how we respond.

Each of the statements below came from Destiny Arts Center family members, teen Company members or elementary-aged youth within the past month. We hope they offer you a sense of your impact on our work. On behalf of our community, we thank you.

FAMILY TESTIMONIALS

My own visual artwork about healing trauma and forging connections has been enriched through my exposure to Destiny.

I have come into Destiny on many occasions with emotional challenges and have received care, support and guidance from a few of Destiny's staff. Anytime I have asked a staff member about a challenge or question in relationship to my child, I have been offered time and space to connect and process. The joy and love I feel when I witness my child and all the other youth practicing, performing or just connecting with each other is building up my own mental health, resilience and faith in the next generation.

It's not just about the arts, it's about the hearts, the dignity, the resilience and the joy that is all important in Destiny's work. In all of these ways, Destiny has been even more needed in this last year, as our whole world experiences a pandemic that is having a huge psychological and emotional impact on us all.

YOUTH COMPANY VOICES

Destiny has helped create art that allows people to process the loss of young people in our communities and allowed the families to mourn the loss of their loved ones.

Destiny helps with mental challenges. Knowing I have a space to talk is the key. I have less anxiety knowing that this space is there for me. The topics we cover are critical to our future, and I think/believe our voice speaks for others who don't have the mic.

Destiny has brought happiness to something so important: ART. We laughed, danced and came together as a whole while protesting our rights for equality and more. Destiny has just been a light to the darkness, especially for our community in this time.

FROM THE SCHOOLS

I feel good because I learned new dances.

I felt good and very, very happy.

That was so, so fun.

I don't ever want to leave this class.

Thank you for making me not shy.

I feel energized. Can we do it again?

Mucho energia.

I want our next class to be tomorrow — don't want to wait 'til next week!