The new mural at Don’t Miss a Beat is a bright and beautiful declaration of the transformative power of the arts. It’s beautifully set against the backdrop of trees at Woodstock Park and surrounded by neighborhoods where exposure to the arts is not easily accessible, to say the least.
California mural artist, Taylor Reinhold, whose vision is promoting creativity among youth through artistic community outreach projects, was the perfect artist for the job. With the help of local artists, Elena Øhlander and Tiffany Rodriguez, “Message in Murals” boldly welcomes all who visit and perfectly represents DMAB’s mission of inspiring and enlightening children and teens in underserved neighborhoods, through artistic discovery.
After taking some pictures and briefly talking to Reinhold about the mural, Gwendolyn Owens, the Director of Development and co-founder, came out to great me and offered to take me for a tour. Having never been to DMAB and not exactly knowing what they do, I eagerly accepted. The next 30 minutes was nothing less than inspirational and enchanting.
We started in the Movement House - a little building on the side of the property that had once been dilapidated. Owens explained how they transformed it into the lovely dance studio it is today. Complete with mirrors and ballet bars.
As we walked back to the main building, we passed more murals, on the walls and the ground, each having a story and theme of encouragement. Owens told me the history of DMAB as we walked. Explaining how they had started 12 years ago. How they had impressed the city so much with what they accomplished, they gave them the old Edith Brown Ford Community Center to transform and make their own, to serve the youth of the surrounding neighborhoods. Her excitement and pride for the center was contagious and I was already sufficiently impressed and eager to get back and write this blog about the mural and all I had seen.
Then we went inside…
There were about 30-50 teens of various ages scattered in groups around the multi-purpose room where we entered (all wearing masks and properly social distancing). Gwendolyn introduced me to the staff members and suggested I go see what was going on around the room.
I walked over to the stage where three of the students were being instructed by co-founder and award winning artistic director, Ulysses Owen Jr. I listened intently to the spoken word that Jada, one of the teens was acting out. It was powerful and beautiful, and within the first three lines I was taken to a new place of understanding her heart, as a young black woman, in a world that too often stereotypes people by the color of their skin. What a timely piece she chose, I thought, only to find out that Jada had written that poem only hours before.
Turning from the stage I was introduced to more staff members. Accomplished artists, musicians and writers who volunteer their time to give these kids the gift of music, poetry, photography, dance and art. “Do you want to hear one of the songs they are practicing for the upcoming production of Cabaret?” they asked. Within moments, about twenty of the teens were lines up, completely engaged and happy to stop what they were doing to perform for me. A complete stranger.
What struck me most during my tour of Don’t Miss a Beat is the attitude of everyone I met. From the kids to the staff, there was an energy. A feeling of purpose, intentionality and excitement about what they were doing. I mentioned this to Ulyssis, as I was saying my good-byes.
“Well, you need to hear our mantra and then you’ll understand,” he said. Within seconds he had the whole group’s attention, inviting them to declare the mantra together for me.
-I am not a statistic!
-I will achieve only great things!
-I am just as good as anyone else!
-I can do anything I set my mind to!
In unison, the room erupted with these impassioned words that they say together, at least once each day.
My visit to see a mural turned into more than I ever could have anticipated. It was an experience that renewed my spirit, encouraged me to achieve great things and challenged me to look deep inside and identify any subconscious notions of stereotypes and statistics.
To learn more about Don't Miss a Beat or discover ways to give and get involved, go to: http://dontmissabeat.org/
More information about artist Taylor Reinhold and the mural project below: