At the historic Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, Seattle youth took to the stage to deliver a stellar performance celebrating Black History Month titled, Fabrics of Our Lives. The play highlighted art, culture, and important moments in American history through tributes to Black civil rights activists, the Harlem Renaissance, Harriet Tubman, the Black Panthers and boy bands of the 1980’s to name only a few. Performers included youth representing Atlantic Street Center (ASC), D&G Dance Company and individual youth performers Tazz Enrico, Skye Dior, and Ashley McCarver.
The Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) is proud to partner with ASC to increase access to enrichment and academic experiences for students furthest from educational justice. Research shows that youth are more likely to graduate high school on time and pursue higher education when learning in environments that reflect their cultural identities and building relationships with adults they trust. The Fabrics of Our Lives theater production is one of many ASC youth programs that foster leadership skills, positive identity development, and cultural pride.
Each act in the show was selected and choreographed by ASC’s Youth Community Ambassadors with support from ASC staff and professional artists in the community. “The youth were very adamant that they wanted to feature a number of different performance types from their culture and not just focus on one,” said Michelle Mitchell-Brannon, Director of Youth Development & Education Support at ASC. “They were inspired, driven, and remarkably professional throughout the process.”
ASC youth shared that the most exciting aspects of Fabrics of Our Lives included taking on leadership roles, performing before a supportive audience, and making new friends. Nai, an ASC youth shared they were thrilled to have an opportunity to push themself beyond what they thought they were capable. “Being a part of a performance I helped plan gave me ownership, and it felt like mine… ASC [taught] us how to plan and research about history that helped shape us as people. We [also] learned a lot about how to plan [for a theater production], figure out how much it costs for sound, lighting, space, performers, costumes and props.”
Another ASC youth, Aida, shared that the play presented an opportunity to learn more about herself, build self-confidence and share her voice with the community. “ASC supported us in many ways such as allowing us to make it our own, giving us a voice and encouraging us to step out of our norm. I really worked hard on my dance routine and practiced my lines everyday, and ASC’s support made me work even harder,” said Aida. “Through this whole process, we learned a lot about the way Black people went through so much hurt and pain, and faced many obstacles but through it all, still shined with creativity, shaped fashion, set trends and inspired so many Black people to find and keep their voice.”
Youth leadership is central to program development at ASC. “We let our youth know that their voices are important by making them a part of all our decision-making processes. They know that they’re an integral part in building programming, and we share that with them,” said Mitchell-Brannon. ASC also provides near-peer mentorship with former ASC participants to provide young people with real-life opportunities to see themselves as leaders in their own lives.
ASC’s legacy of providing education, youth development, family support, and mental health counseling dates back to 1910. “Participants are reminded on a regular basis [of] the history of our agency, which in and of itself is Black history. ASC’s early work with the Black Panthers [to develop a free breakfast program for kids in the 1970’s] is a key tenant of our history,” said Mitchell-Brannon.
Today, ASC’s services have grown in scope to offer early learning education, behavioral health, violence prevention and a range of additional services that support the safety and well-being of children and families. In addition to DEEL, ASC holds partnerships with schools and businesses in Seattle/King County and specifically the Rainier Valley neighborhood to provide enrichment and employment opportunities for students.
Beyond supporting youth enrichment, ASC’s staff are excellent at building a sense of community and belonging for youth. Michelle Mitchell-Brannon is a well-known “Auntie” in the community. Her energy, passion and youth programs expertise are unmatched. Youth, staff and community members deeply respect Michelle and look to her for support.
Each year, DEEL partners with ASC and other community-based organizations through Opportunity and Access (O&A) investments funded by the voter-approved 2018 Families, Education, Preschool and Promise (FEPP) Levy. O&A investments support culturally-responsive mentorship, enrichment, career exploration and tutoring programs for K-12 students as they prepare for prepare for a range of opportunities awaiting them after high-school, including the Seattle Promise program. Seattle Promise guarantees two years of tuition-free college toward a degree, credential or trade at any of the three Seattle Colleges: North, Central, and South. Learn more about DEEL’s O&A investments and community partners here.