Two Children’s Aid student artists attended the trip of a lifetime this summer as part of a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America (BGCA).
Funded in part by Amazon, our arts and activism program encouraged participants to express their feelings about racial justice through art; and to use poetry and visual arts to memorialize Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans whose lives tragically ended.
The project caught the eye of First Daughter Ashley Biden, who was working with BGCA as a consultant. Biden brainstormed with our staff and students on how they could make an even greater impact.
They collectively decided to host a culmination event at the end of the school year to display their advocacy artwork for the community at large. They invited other local BGCA partner sites to participate and chose specific racial justice topics to champion at the event, including voting rights, gun safety, and more.
The event, called Equity Rising, took place at our Dunlevy Milbank Community Center in Harlem and was attended by 175 community members. In addition to the artwork and information booths set up by youth from Children’s Aid sites and other clubs, students facilitated a meaningful panel discussion with NYPD police officers, crime victims, school officials, nonprofits, and other community leaders.
The goal was to discuss how these groups could work together to build a safer and more inclusive city.
Amir Nina, 14, participated in the art program and was one of the students who helped organize the Equity Rising event.
"Preparing for the Equity Rising event, even if you had a bad day, as soon as you walked through those doors, you knew you had to get to work,” Amir said. “It was extremely rewarding to listen to everyone's experience with the success of the project."
Impressed by our students’ efforts, the BGCA invited them to present their project to 250 people at the BGCA National Youth Advocacy Days Conference from July 12 to 14.
Midge Caparosa, program director for arts initiatives, attended the three-day event with Amir and Zoe Nelson, 19, who also participated in the Equity Rising event. On the first day, the students practiced giving their speeches in front of other BGCA members. The experience allowed them to polish their presentations.
On the second day, participants were treated to a panel where government officials spoke about their career paths and what steps young people can take to secure jobs in government, journalism, and the nonprofit sector. They also presented their artwork and the positive experience they had hosting the Equity Rising event.
Midge, Zoe, and Amir also toured the White House and got to experience a bus tour through major landmarks like the Jefferson, Lincoln, World War II, and Korean War memorials.
“It was very moving and powerful,” Midge said. “That was an amazing experience.”
On July 14, they met with aides for Congress members Kirsten Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer, Ritchie Torres, and Adriano Espaillat. Amir and Zoe’s experience at the Equity Rising event informed their decision to advocate for common sense gun control, better mental health services, and food justice for people in their communities.
The students were nervous as they made their way through elected officials’ offices, but they grew more confident with each meeting. They shared personal stories and explained how legislative action could improve the lives of New Yorkers. The aides were treated to prints of the portraits made by Children’s Aid student artists.
“You could see the growth from the first to the fourth interview,” Midge said. “It was the best part of their trip. The kids felt like they were being heard. It’s an eye opener for them and they learned how long it takes to get things done. They really understood how their voices matter to adults.”
Zoe, who participates in programming at our Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem, said the experience motivated her to become a positive force for her community.
"Working on the Equity Rising event was a beautiful experience. I was able to use my voice with others who listened and understood the issues that are important to me: gun violence, mental health issues, and food justice,” she said. “I loved being around people who want change as much as I do ... it's like I found my home. I will continue to advocate for changes in our community, starting small but making big changes. Our trip to Washington D.C. was amazing. I can't wait to continue to be the change."