Artistic expression gives Miami students a ‘motivational edge’

Photo: The Motivational Edge’s second annual student showcase took place Aug. 10 at The Stage. Students engaged in lyrical expression performances to showcase the past eight weeks of instruction from the program. Pictured: Dwayne Dopson, Ryan Everett, Rudy Sablon (director of programs), Axel Sierra and Tarrell Newell. Credit: Carolina Wilson.

Tarrell Newell, a rising senior at Miami Jackson Senior High School, wants to attend Full Sale University in Winter Park, Fla., to study music management and sound engineering.

It’s an aspiration that’s been nurtured by The Motivational Edge, a nonprofit after-school program that uses the arts to inspire youth toward educational achievement.

“The Motivational Edge is literally the best place in the world. It’s my second home,” Newell said. “The art bonds us, and the instructors are interested in you before themselves.”

Newell has trained since January with the organization’s Art of Creative Writing and Lyrical Expression program, which received $50,000 in the 2013 Knight Arts Challenge.

On Friday, about 20 youth from The Motivational Edge community demonstrated their skills in singing, dancing or drawing during the second annual student showcase at The Stage in the Miami Design District.

Top: Crowd cheers performer at student showcase. Middle: Opening the program, Alexander Silva performed spoken word about his mother. Bottom: “What is your motivation?” and “What is your EDGE?” poster records the feelings of participants.

“We’re excited to have this final performance for students,” CEO and founder Ian Welsch said. “It gives them a chance to expose themselves to the community and bring light to the community about what we’ve been up to.”

The evening offered an eclectic demonstration of the arts. A bright tiger emerged on a canvas as teaching artists from the Urban Arts Expression program painted. Then, Alexander Silva, a student in the Creative Writing and Lyrical Expressions program, performed a self-written rap about the most influential person in his life: his mother.

“I couldn’t have done it without the love, support and care from a princess I call my mother. Her hugs are like an angel telling me to never give up.”

Since June 2008 The Motivational Edge has provided a way for inner-city youth to express themselves through engagement with the arts. Students from the ages of 8 to 18 can participate in lyrical expression classes, musical instrument instruction, dance lessons and visual art classes.

After teaching for four years in inner-city Miami, Welsch recognized a dire need for more out-of-the-classroom resources for youth struggling with expressing their feelings. Academic success, however, remains essential to the program.

“I’m an academic, so I had to hold academics in prominence,” Welsch said. “Any student that wants access to our arts-based programming and they’re running a ‘C’ or below in a course subject [has] to accept free tutoring from us.”

Rudy Sablon, director of programs for The Motivational Edge, also thinks it’s important to give youth basic tools and resources for use at home.

“Some kids don’t know how to take care of themselves so we have a health literacy initiative where we teach kids how to eat correctly and adopt the correct hygienic habits,” Sablon said. “We also have a parenting program helping parents understand how to relate to and motivate their kids so that they can thrive as a family.”

After the student showcase performances were over, it became clear that The Motivational Edge community itself is a family. Program participants from all categories gathered on the stage in an embrace.

Welsch told the audience, “We hope to inspire youth toward increased academic achievement, increased self-confidence in the building of self-worth and essential life skills that they will take with them forever.”

Carolina Wilson is a Miami-based freelance writer.

Video: Carolina Wilson.

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