I have always known that there was something somewhere within me that has fueled my fire to pledge that I am going to do something, be someone, and go somewhere, just as any other young aspiring 19 or 20 something year old does today. However, this steady passion is not a privilege for many marginalized individuals in modern society and is often taken for granted or underappreciated. This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to intern at Life Pieces To Masterpieces (LPTM) as a mentor to individuals who do not have the privilege of unbridled passion. Life Pieces is an arts-based empowerment program for African American males ages 3-25 in order to change challenges into possibilities and to awaken their innate creative abilities through positive reinforcement, positive language, and the cultivation of a loving and secure environment.
During my eight-week experience, I learned a wealth of concepts ranging from the importance of empowerment programs like LPTM to the necessity of a loving and secure environment. One of the most important concepts I learned was the significance of the work of empowerment programs. This concept was reified through the premise of Life Pieces, which rings true for myself and my journey to where I am today. The premise holds that LOVE + SECURITY + EXPRESSION = LIFE and LOVE + SECURITY + EXPRESSION = DEATH (read as no love + no security + no expression). An environment in which everyone encourages others to pursue their dreams regardless of what they are and promotes freedom to express oneself without being bound by passions considered better suited for one’s gender, class, physical ability, or monetary status engenders true thriving. This environment embodies love in abundant forms through moral and emotional support, encouragement, and consistent attentiveness to individuals. In this environment, security is more than a locked door. It is being comfortable in the presence of others, knowing that our opinion is valued, knowing that we are nurtured by individuals who have our best interest at heart, and knowing that we are accepted as we are without conforming to a social norm. Expression is valued at every stage, whether it is artistic, athletic, academic or transformative. There are absolutely no stupid questions or answers as everyone’s thoughts deserve the utmost attention and celebration.
In addition to these concepts, I learned the vitality of knowing the power an individual possesses. Life Pieces teaches that our thoughts, our actions, and our words determine our destiny. This concept was very instrumental for a deeper understanding of what Life Pieces aims to accomplish: to provide a space where young African American men can truly flourish without overbearing societal pressures and become the best possible versions of themselves. Through this work, I comprehended how vital it is to make the best of every situation and see the glass as half full instead of half empty. The view that every moment is a teachable moment holds very true at Life Pieces.
Moreover, as I furthered my understanding of the program and the apprentices or brothers I served this summer, I was faced with the constant urge within myself to match the tangible enthusiasm and love evident at Life Pieces. At various points, I found myself not just passively encouraging the brothers but providing earnest support. It was amazing to see how the effect of my heartfelt support influenced the brothers with whom I worked because of the familial bonds that Life Pieces forges between staff and apprentices. When we held our annual event to celebrate our Education Architects and Saturday Academy apprentices for our young men high-school age to 25, I approached several brothers, congratulated them, and told them how genuinely proud of them I was. It was astounding to know that I could give advice that left the same impact as that of an immediate family member because of my commitment to the organization. I was overcome with emotion realizing that as my internship came to a close because I had the opportunity to whole heartedly inspire and empower individuals who prior to June 5th I had never known, and for them to receive it with open hearts and minds eight weeks later. I was inspired and empowered by people who no longer were strangers but family to me. At the start of this journey they welcomed me with open arms as if I were a sister who was away and came to visit, and at the end of the journey, they sent me off as if I were a sister with whom they shared many precious memories and would be deeply missed as I continue with my academic career.
This experience showed me that positivity and knowing our power in the face of adversity can overcome life’s trials and tribulations. Family can be discovered, created, and crafted to support and enrich our lives no matter when and where we find ourselves. Nothing can stop true potential when given the right environment and materials to thrive. Life Pieces To Masterpieces and other empowerment driven organizations form the materials and environments for these individuals and hopefully many more, as their work is increasingly necessary for future generations of young leaders in turbulent times.