Georgia Teen, Others Receive Awards, Redemption at White House

Arts Education

Featured speaker and poet  Andre Massey, 14, of Savannah, Ga.,gets a thumbs up from first lady Michelle Obama and a standing ovation from guests at the 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. | Photos by Cheriss May, Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON — Growing up, André Massey early on lived with a strained relationship with his father, as well bullying from his peers, which caused him to often act out in rage.

A teacher suggested Massey, now 14, begin channeling his frustration and anger through  creative writing.  Now, the Savannah, Ga., teen is even more grateful for taking his teacher’s suggestion.  Hishis poetry earned him a trip to the White House and award-winning recognition the first lady Michelle Obama.

Massey was one of 12 teens from youth programs across the world to receive the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Tuesday from Obama. 

Student awardee Valeria Cruz from Washington holds her award.  

The award, which is the nation’s highest honor for after-school art and humanities programs, recognizes top afterschool programs that foster youth creativity while promoting the importance of academic achievement, improved graduation rates, and college participation by teaching youth about arts and the humanities.

The programs honored for their students this year included The Center for Urban Pedagogy Urban Investigations Program and  Rosie’s Theater Kids  ACTE II Program, both from New York City, The Deep Center Young Authors Project from Savannah, Ga.,  The Telling Room Young Writers and Leaders Program from Portland, Maine, the ArtMix Urban Artisans Program in Indianapolis, and the Caldera Youth Mentoring Program from Portland, Ore.

Also honored were the Armory Center for the Arts Art High Program in  Pasadena, Calif., Ogden Museum of Southern Art Summer Teen Docent Program from New Orleans, Washington Pavillion of Arts and Science, Action Arts and Science Program from Sioux Falls, S.D.,  the CityDance DREAM Program in Washington, the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Ochestra Community Partnership Programs  and the Spy Hop Productions, Digital Media Arts Program in  Salt Lake City.

Obama thanked the parents, teachers, educators, and administrators for their hard work and dedication to making the programs possible.

 “I know that you all put in late nights and long hours and late nights while dealing with endless phone calls and paperwork, budget meetings, kid and parent complaints,” she said.  “I know the payoff is worth it, because you all know more than anyone else how the arts and humanities can transform people’s lives.  We now have the pleasure of welcoming kids from every corner of our country to the White House today.”

Obama praised the students by name, starting with Ibrahim Shkara, a 19-year-old from Iraq with The Telling, a youth literary program  in Portland, Maine.

 “I was told that you were nervous to meet me and shake my hand today,” Obama teased her.  “You told your local newspaper, ‘It’s a big thing!” I think it is a even bigger thing for me to have all of you amazing students here today. We are proud of all of you and I am really excited to see what you will contribute to the country.”

Jerry Amaya from Honodorus, receives his award from  Obama with
distinguished guest (far right) Ambassador of Honduras, Alberto Milla Reyes

 Massey, who received his award on behalf of Deep Center Youth Author Project, served as the student speaker of the day, detailing how he was able to

overcome his greatest struggles through writing.

“My English teacher, Dr. Travis, made writing come alive for me,” he said. “It actually created a reason for me to come to school.”

 After just one class in the writing program, Massey said, he noticed a change in himself, because he realized he could fully express his feelings, particularly his longing for a repaired relationship with his father.  It lead  him to write a poem called “Father,” which was published.

“The poem was very hard for me and my father to hear, but the experience has really changed both of our lives,” Massey said, looking at his father in the front row. “He is my best friend now. I am a poet and I finally know where I fit in. To first lady Michelle Obama, I thank you for this amazing opportunity.”