The Spirit of Detroit: Classical Ballet Training as a Vision for the Empowerment of Youth
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As a child, my mother would tell me "life is much harder for kids growing up today," than when she was a child. At the time it was just a saying. Aunts and uncles told stories of adventures as children, how the neighborhood was a safe haven. The neighbors looked after each other, for the children of the neighborhood, for family. Now society has targeted the youth as generally menaces to society. At the end of the 20th century, nearly 15 million children in the United States lived in poor urban or rural neighborhoods (Population Census Bureau). In Detroit, 51 percent of the total population lived in poverty in 1999, 23 percent of that population were African Americans (Census 2000 5% Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS)). Research has shown that "children living in these poor neighborhoods are at substantially higher risk of negative economic, educational, and health outcomes compared with children living in more affluent communities." The risk also includes social negative outcomes as well as steep increases in teen pregnancies. However, poverty is not the only factor affecting this high occurrence of negative outcomes. Having unemployed parents, living in a single parent home, high school dropouts, and out of school or just idle teens all contribute to the presence of negative outcomes in a community ( Census 2000; Figure 1 ). Looking at statistics clearly identifiable is the disproportionate rate at which minorities live in poverty, have increasing health complications, and receive inadequate education. Yet, sometimes, it is hard to see the face behind the numbers. Recognition that there is a problem (e.g. disturbing data that hints to disproportionate structural violence against minorities) may lead to greater interest in providing assistance programs, such as funding to inner schools for updated books or the Detroit youth Organization that works to eliminate some of the socialized negative outcomes that minorities face. These types of programs are necessary, but there are too few dedicated programs. Every child should be afforded the opportunity to be in an environment that is conducive of learning that generates self-empowerment. Learning without empowerment is futile because knowledge without power leads to a self-defeatist attitude-a mentality that all one's efforts, no matter how substantial, will amount to nothingness. This is the internal negative outcome of statistical data that is not shown in numbers, but evident in the dance students I meet every summer in inner city dance programs. It is a state of mind I found can be helped through simply providing a safe and constructive environment where youth are empowered, thereby generating a desire to achieve. This is my story, their stories, and ours.