Drumming & Myth: Healing Urban Youth Through Alchemy

Still from FINDING THE GOLD WITHIN, by Karina EpperleinAlchemy is a nonprofit organization in Akron, OH that provides a safe environment and sense of community to assist in the development of urban adolescents through the telling, discussion, and interpretation of mythological stories and fairy tales told to the beat of an African drum.

Since 2003, Alchemy has worked with over 2,000 male youth in its creative youth development programs. In 2012, they received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities.

“Myths speak to archetypal situations, universal dilemmas,” said Kwame Scruggs, Executive Director of Alchemy, Inc. And, embedded in myths are guides to behavior that he believes can help counter some of the destructive images of masculinity that have taken root in some aspects of urban culture.

For the seven years that I have been in Alchemy, It has helped me grow from a boy to a man. The mythological stories we read and hear you can relate to everyday life. It helps you become a better decision maker to help you through hard times. It also connects you with other black males where I learn about their problems and we are able to help each other overcome obstacles. Alchemy is a great group of loyalty and brotherhood. – Marlon, Alchemy participant

I come, I listen, I share or say what I gotta say. I feel more open, because nothing leaves the circle. I’m something like a son, well, we all can say we are. But with no father figure in my life it seems like I had one when I come here and a lot of brothers so it taught me how to bond with people. So I come because it’s Alchemy. Love Kwame like a father.” – Dionte, Alchemy participant

Although personal development, rather than academic achievement, is the program’s chief goal, Alchemy’s techniques are also promoting academic success. Twenty-four of 28 members of its “first class” graduated from high school and went on to college. (And, of those 24 who enrolled in college, nine Alchemy alums have already graduated with their college degrees with 6 more alum on track to graduate by June 2018.)

In Finding the Gold Within, a feature-length documentary by Karina Epperlein, follow six young African American men, alumni of Alchemy’s program, as they enter college, determined to redefine society’s images and low expectations of them:

2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards Finalists Announced

First Lady Michelle Obama with 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Winners Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Community Partnership Programs. Photo: Steven Purcell.The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and its cultural partners – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services – are proud to recognize 50 outstanding programs all over the country for their work in providing excellent arts and humanities learning opportunities to young people. From big cities to small towns, the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists reflect the diversity of disciplines and settings of these exceptional programs that are taking place from coast to coast.

See the full list of finalists.

2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists Announced

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and its cultural partners – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services – are proud to recognize 50 outstanding programs all over the country for their work in providing excellent arts and humanities learning opportunities to young people. From big cities to small towns, the 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists reflect the diversity of disciplines and settings of these exceptional programs that are taking place from coast to coast.

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