Andre Massey, 14, from the Deep Center arts program in Savannah, Georgia received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Nov. 17 from First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. (Photo by Cheriss May, Howard University News Service)
Growing up, André Massey early on lived with a strained relationship with his father, as well as 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, Georgia teen, is even more grateful for taking his teacher’s advice. His poetry earned him a trip to the White House and award-winning recognition from 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 on Nov. 17.
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, 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, Oregon.
Also honored were the Armory Center for the Arts Art High Program in Pasadena, California, 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, South Dakota, the CityDance DREAM Program in Washington D.C. , the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Ochestra Community Partnership Programs and the Spy Hop Productions, Digital Media Arts Program in Salt Lake City.
The First Lady 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.”
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 led 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, while 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.”