Transcript – Episode 35

Announcer:  This broadcast is a project of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency committed to building creative communities and inspiring creative minds.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Our main goal is really for them to have that space and voice and use their creative juices to really think how is this affecting me? How is this affecting my community, my family and what can I do different?

Anita Walker:  Hello, I’m Anita Walker, executive director of The Massachusetts Cultural Council and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Vanessa Calderon Rosado from IBA. I’ll let you say correctly what IBA stands for in just a minute but we are so glad that you are here. Welcome to the program.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Thank you so much Anita for the opportunity. Very excited to be here today.

Anita Walker:  And IBA, I-B-A stands for?

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  IBA, I-B-A stands for Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion which translated to English would be Puerto Rican Tenants in Action and it’s because of our origin. We are almost 50 years old. We were founded in 1968. Our founders were Puerto Rican activists that organized to stop the city’s plan for displacement and so they created IBA to develop affordable housing in their neighborhood and a number of programs including arts programs that we still have today.

Anita Walker:  So action and social justice are in your DNA and one of the programs that you run of the many that I really wanted to dig into a little bit you today is your Creative Youth Development program, one of our exemplars in Massachusetts.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Thank you. Yes, we are very excited to have this kind of great opportunity for young people of color, urban youth in the city of Boston. We work with young people from underserved neighborhoods in the city, both in the South End, Lower Roxbury, Roxbury. That’s our main target area based on our location in Boston’s South End but we serve young people from all parts of the city, from Mattapan, Roxbury, Dorchester, East Boston, High Park and we really bring them for a very strong and robust programming both in the afternoons during the school year and during the summers as well with extended programming.

Anita Walker:  And I think it’s this intensive relationship that you develop with these young people. You were an early member of our YouthReach cohort of organizations that really sort of build this field of practice that we now call Creative Youth Development.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Absolutely.

Anita Walker:  And some of the, I mean really driving features of our Creative Youth Development programs which you exemplify so well is giving young people a place to be and something important to do – of an arts nature of course, we love that part of it – looking at young people as not victims to be served but actually as people to be unleashed to develop their own potential and when we look at the programs we aren’t looking at “Did you make a better artist or a musician?” We’re saying does the young person say “I matter and I can make a difference in my community.”

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  That is correct.

Anita Walker:  How do you instill that?

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  That is correct, definitely. Our program has a very holistic approach to youth development using the arts, arts based to really develop that young person so we have civic engagements, social justice component. We have an academic support component because we want to make sure that our young people stay in track for high school graduation and then moving on to, you know, some post-secondary path whether it’s educational, vocational, and of course the arts. So for us employing these young people because it’s employment based as well. We pay them a stipend to come and learn. For us it’s really creating a safe space with adults that care about them, that really will look after their development and will help them through the arts to amplify their voice, to use the arts to dig into interesting social problems that they, their families, their communities are facing. So for example very recently and actually currently our young people have been using the arts to explore the debt crisis in Puerto Rico. Many of our young people are of Puerto Rican descent and Latinos in its majority although we have a wide diversity in our youth arts program but we are using the arts to help the young people understand so what has happened in Puerto Rico. What are the implications of that for the island and if you have family still there and for Puerto Ricans here and what can we do? How can we use our collective power and voices to do that and this is just an example. We’ve done that with so many other social issues that may impact them that they select because these are things that they have been listening to, that they are exposed to, that they are impacted by and sometimes unfortunately that they have experienced trauma from. So, this, you know, you seeing the arts and this type of approach of creative youth development really help young people heal as well. You know, and also create that voice and think critically about the issues, you know, as much as we understand and how important, you know, the core standards are in the schools that they’re very important but sometimes we forget that through the arts you could develop so many of those skills that you have in those standards including creative thinking, critical thinking and analytical thoughts and the arts really provide a wonderful mechanism to do that.

Anita Walker:  You know, it’s so empowering when a young person realizes that they can change something in the world, they can make the world better in some way and I remember it might have been a year or two ago I was at IBA and it was a huge gathering of young people and the whole team was empowerment and there was so much energy and excitement in the room.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Yeah, and in fact the young people entitled – because they picked the title for that event – they called it “la lingua el porel”, “the power of the tongue” and then if you remember there was the month of disciplinary arts events not only with IBA youth but youth of other creative youth programs throughout the city and young people used obviously visual arts and performing arts but a lot of spoken word and theatre so they used their voices through the art to really bring about light, shed light on some of those issues that they were interested in and they’re affecting them but also using arts and that voice to exert change and to kind of motivate and rally people to create that change.

Anita Walker:  So I have to ask you. We’re in 2017 now. Twenty sixteen and 2017 have been challenging and difficult years for a lot of people but I think particularly for people in our YouthReach programs as we have met with them, as we have listened to them. There’s a certain especially for people who may be new to this country or have families in other countries that they don’t get to see very often. They’re feeling a little threatened. Do you see that?

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Yes, we do see that and in fact before this unit that we’re now learning with our young people about Puerto Rico and the fiscal crisis there right before then all, you know, leading into the 2016 elections and right after we talked about a lot of issues, racial equity, income inequality, immigration because these are three big challenges that our children and our youth face in their communities. So we talked about that and again through the arts explored, you know, filmmaking, through spoken word, through theatre, through visual arts exploring what these things mean and how it affects me and how I can make a difference through arts in my world, in my community, amongst my friends? How can I express, you know, those feelings that sometimes are bottled up, you know? And, you know, so creating that safe space is critical for young people so we’ve seen a lot of that and there’s much more work to do.

Anita Walker:  Well, you know, it’s interesting is we have a chance to talk with a lot of people in our field that are artists. You know, artists have an impulse to heal and to confront and there’s almost like a little bit of opposition going on. What am I supposed to be doing now? Am I supposed to be in a healing mode or am I supposed to be calling out and confronting things that I’m seeing in our society that need to be made better? I’m just so curious to see it through the lens of a young person who has their entire world ahead of them.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Yeah, I think young people have a tendency to be feisty and they want to really bring about change and have an urgency. Young people have an urgency to really see that change because they feel it, you know, every day. They know so when we talked about income inequality or racial justice they really see it manifested in micro aggressions everywhere they go on a regular basis. So, they feel that urgency of really immediately confronting issue and use it more to affect change as opposed to healing but obviously it depends. I think another piece that is important about any creative youth program like IBA’s youth development program is that it also, you know, this whole movement about creative place making. They’re really creating their own community through the arts and really expressing themselves and like you said earlier in this conversation we’re not looking to develop Picassos or Yo-Yo Mas or, you know, or the next Lin-Manuel Miranda. All of that would be fantastic if we, you know…

Anita Walker:  … you probably have some of that in your group.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  And actually we have had some of our young people who have received awards not only through our programs but through our program or on their own. But the point is that if that happens that’s wonderful but that’s not our main goal. Our main goal is really to use the arts like I said already 20,000 times in this conversation is that vehicle. It’s for them to have that space and voice and use their creative juices to really think of how is this affecting me, how is this affecting my community, my family and what can I do different? And so to answer your question, this long answer is really that for what we see primarily is that our young people love using the arts as, you know, to confront the issue and to try to find a solution to it.

Anita Walker:  Do you have a story you can tell us of one of the young people in particular with or without a name attached to it but that personal story of where you have absolutely seen transformational change and a difference?

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  There are so many and maybe I’ll pick two out of or three. I don’t know. Let me start with at least one but yeah there is this one young man who came into our program. He was very shy. He lives actually– IBA has a portfolio of affordable housing so we are, you know, a landlord, a community development corporation so he lives in our property, in one of our properties and very shy. When he was 13 he walked by our program and he was invited to come and join and he said, “No”. He was definitely not ready. A few months later he went by and then he saw what was happening through the, you know, through the glass windows and, you know, and he tells this story. He says, “Like wow that looks like a lot of fun and engagement” and still he walked by but the next day he came.  He stopped by on his way home from school and he said, “Like I want to learn more about the program.” So that very shy boy at 13 is today about to graduate from UMass Boston from an engineering program and he personally will tell you how our program and specifically the spoken word component of our program, that arts part really gave him a voice, really helped him come out of that shell, really helped him become a better public speaker, really helped him, gave him confidence and made him feel like he was a blossoming and developing young man growing into, you know, a young adult.

Anita Walker:  He mattered and could make a difference.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Exactly. And so his story is quite remarkable and more recently I mean because he’s just about to graduate from college, from UMass Boston but just recently IBA had the great honor of receiving the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program…

Anita Walker:  … congratulations. There’s a little applause in the room. Yes, we’re so proud of you…

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  … The NAHYP award and we last November, November 2016 we were at the White House receiving the award from First Lady Michelle Obama so that was the honor of our lifetime and I personally had the honor of travelling to Washington D.C. with one of our young participants and she, so talking about another example, she is one of those young people who has a lot of potential but again shy because, you know, there are so many things that are happening in these young people’s lives and we have seen her blossoming and really becoming a very strong voice and leader within our community of young people and also in her school. So we’re very proud of her.

Anita Walker:  What was it like for her to meet the First Lady?

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  It was unbelievable and, you know, what was the most amazing thing that in the First Lady’s remarks which were amazing, so inspiring I was holding my tears all throughout the presentation and during the First Lady’s remarks she picked two programs and two young people to speak about exemplars of what Creative Youth Development is all about and one of the young people that she picked was Noemi Negron, our young participant from IBA Youth Development Program. So Noemi and I– when she started talking about her, Noemi and I looked at her each other and Noemi held my hand and squeezed it so hard that I almost screamed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to scream for excitement or pain or both but for her was an amazing opportunity and a life changing opportunity, not only to meet the First Lady but to hear the First Lady talk, talking about her, her drive, her motivation, and how, you know, how she’s developing a path for herself and how this program’s really helping her develop that path. So it was quite unbelievable to be there and to listen to the First Lady’s words about Noemi.

Anita Walker:  <music> What an inspiring story, inspiring work which we’re doing everyday here in Boston having national implications and affect all over the country. Vanessa Calderon Rosado from IBA. Thank you very much. Another one of our creative minds out loud.

Vanessa Calderon Rosado:  Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you.

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