(PASADENA, CA) A teen girl shyly took the stage, eyes half-hidden by a cap, and then surprised the audience with a powerful rap song that revealed a resilient spirit and a soulful singing voice.
A young man lost the poem he was to read, but found his muse and hastily created another one minutes before performing.
A young woman was so nervous to read her poem in front of an audience that she gave it to a friend to read instead.
Despite last-minute jitters, the evening worked out well for all three during Hillsides Youth Moving On Peer Resource Center’s Open Mic contest held on Thursday, February 27 that showcased poetry, music, and art. The three youth wound up taking home first, second, and third place prizes valued at $25, $50, and $100 respectively.
However, it wasn’t the money that really counted during the evening. The theme of the event was “Journey to Greatness: A New Way Forward,” and moving forward was what these three young people, along with the some 15 other performers, were doing that night.
“I’m changing my life,” said the young man who took second prize, a former gang member whose poem warned against “brothers killing brothers.” With gang involvement behind him, he is now focused on family and getting a job.
The event, held in conjunction with the Pennacle Foundation, Inc., a Los Angeles non-profit organization serving at-risk youth, drew youth from throughout Los Angeles County. Many of the performers live in group homes or have recently emancipated from the foster care system.
More than 100 people attended the event. Dinner was included, and every performer was awarded a small cash prize at the end of the night.
The Open Mic Night was the third event of this kind that the YMO Peer Resource Center has held since opening in April, 2013. The YMO Peer Resource Center, located at 456 E. Orange Grove Blvd, Suite 140, in Pasadena serves as a one-stop shop of centralized support for youth in need ages 16 – 25. The Center is a part of Hillsides Youth Moving On program, which provides youth previously in foster care and in probation with affordable quality housing and numerous support services to empower them to find lasting independence.
The opportunity to perform original works in front of an audience is not only a chance for artistic expression but for personal growth, noted Thomas Lee, Hillsides division director of transition-aged youth services.
“Poetry and any form of expression provides a space for youth to fill a void of silence with their truth which empowers and becomes life-affirming,” he said.
This is true for Anthony Azevedo who is a member of Youth Moving On’s transitional housing program. He performed a rap song that rang true to the new path his life is on. His song, “In Our Hands,” told of his determination to better himself and get back on his feet after setbacks. Since joining Youth Moving On two months ago, Azevedo has gotten a job and is attending school.
Hillsides, headquartered in Pasadena, is a premier provider dedicated to improving the overall well-being and functioning of vulnerable children, youth, and their families throughout Los Angeles County. Youth Moving On is one of Hillsides four core programs that also includes Family Resource Centers throughout Los Angeles County, a Residential Treatment Services program, and an Education Center.