Education

Young activists learn the art of advocacy

Samali Bikangaga

Participants from this summer’s CampPowerPoint program show off their circus tricks at The Point on Aug. 11.

A group of ambitious young students closed out their productive summer on a high note at The Point CDC on Aug. 11, with a performance that included music and circus tricks for the community.

Some 50 young people between 14 and 24 came together at The Point’s Live at the Edge Theater, to sing, dance and perform routines they had worked on all summer. The group had just wrapped up six weeks of study and vocational training at Camp PowerPOINT, where they learned about pressing social issues while being paid to work. They also attended classes on writing, the arts and fitness.

The program, which was launched at The Point in 2011, is designed for young people to learn leadership skills through the arts, according to Danny R. Peralta, The Point’s executive managing director.

“We use art as a tool,” said Peralta. “That’s the one thing we know young people are interested in, is expression. So we tap into that. “

This year, the program focused on preparing the young participants to mobilize their communities to act on important social issues. Social justice campaigns being waged in Hunts Point were high on their summer curriculum, including the fight to introduce healthier food into neighborhood supermarkets and stores, and the need to improve the educational system in low-income neighborhoods. Staff also put emphasis on the more intangible art of advocating effectively on issues.

Charles Irizarri, 24,  a circus and fitness instructor, has been involved with programs at The Point for many years. Irizarri grew up on Coster Street, an area of Hunts Point where young people often seem to end up in trouble, he said, especially during the summer months when many are idle.

Irizarri decided to take part in CampPowerPoint’s coaches-in-training program this year so he could try to help prompt change in the neighborhood. After the training, he went on to coach a group of 15 students assorted life skills, such as incorporating fitness into their daily lives and preparing for careers in the growing health care industry.

“There is no reason that you cannot push yourself towards a specific goal to achieve it,” Irizarri said.

One of the hosts for the evening event, student Aaliyah Daniels, 15, is also a member of the Point’s long-running A.C.T.I.O.N program, which mentors young people to become activists in their communities. The issue that most caught Daniels’ attention this summer was the fight to make fresh and nutritious food easier to access in low-income neighborhoods like Hunts Point.

“It helps you get out of your comfort zone,” Daniels said about learning to advocate.

Food justice wasn’t the only issue she learned about, though. While participating on the Campaign for Educational Equity, Daniels took part in a group trip to Columbia University for a discussion with other students about ways push for improvement of the educational system in poor areas, for young people like herself.

“It’s another thing on the list we don’t get,” said Daniels. “We have to make this a better environment for our future. “

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