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Art Saves Lives Foundation

The Dutch side of St. Maarten N.A. {~SXM~} is my parents' home away from home. Every summer growing up, we would spend time walking the shops of Front Street while my Step-Dad would point out the school his Mother attended, the church his Aunt Deaconed, and the alleyways of his childhood mischief. I remember when my brother Matthew and I were old enough to walk around by ourselves, it was a mini rights-of-passage that I was so proud of. Watching Matt invent fishing devices that actually worked and then sharing the spoils with the local children is one of the fondest memories in my entire life.

So when my BFF Shakira Marshall invited me down to SXM while she would be teaching her Afro-Soca dance choreography, I couldn't resist. She previously taught at the internationally renown "Art Saves Lives" program, coordinated by her fellow Broadway diva and native St. Maartener, Nicole de Weever. They starred in Fela! together and I was privileged to meet Nicole as she became a patron of my jewelry line back in 2009. I was super stoked to finally be able to witness her community service platform and my plane landed just in time to accompany Kira to her 1st class of the day, which was filled to the brim with eager students. I became enchanted & curious and walked around the National Institute of Arts dance studios where this year's program was held, to see the students diligently studying African dance, song, drum, and hip-hop. Instantly as a child of the arts, it filled me with joy to be back in the performing arts space. I swear I was in dancer's heaven! Though I only visited afternoon classes, I later learned that students had mindfulness, speech, vocal, and business development classes as well to supplement the rigorous arts curriculum. The week long program culminated with a mind blowing performance at the Philipsburg Cultural and Community Center. Not only was the show amazing, the stories pf the ASL participants and their struggles tugged on everybody's heartstrings. There were several scholarships given out and a few of the students even won a trip to New York City to continue their artistic journey. The whole experience reminded me of my own testimony as in fact, art saved my life... I'll leave that for another day.

Sidebar: This is super personal but, two nights before I left to SXM, I had a dream that I was playing a dun dun bass drum from the West African djembe orchestra, which I used to play while performing with Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago. I haven't played drums in approximately 10 years so the dream really excited me. Two days later, the opportunity presented itself as I heard the djembe call out to me and was inspired to seek out dun dun drums and join the fun. Trust me, boo, I was in my element to the max! When Nicole asked me to play for the show, I almost cried. Good times.

In general, traveling to St. Maarten has always represented growth, development, freedom, love, and understanding for me. That small friendly island which people from around the globe flock to is having a major impact on the future of young artists and is providing an immensely nurturing program within which many participants surely flourish. I am so proud to have volunteered in contribution to the next generation of performing artists with the Art Saves Lives Foundation. I did my best to look to into as many of the students eyes as possible and tell them to chase their wildest dreams, assuring them that only the sky was the limit. It was the least I could do for the country I hold so dearly, and as my first trip there as an adult, it undoubtedly served as yet another rights-of-passage in my personal journey.

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