Anyone who’s been around the Bay Area for any amount of time has heard of the Destiny Arts Program. And for those of you who haven’t, don’t feel left out, read on…
Founded by Kate Hobbs, Sarah Crowell, and Sifu Anthony Daniels, Destiny Arts (which stands for De-Escalation Skills Training Inspiring Nonviolence in Youth) has been inspiring youth, their families, and communities since 1988. Through a range of artistic and physical expression (from flash mobs to hip-hop dance theatre), Destiny teaches children from ages three to eighteen to believe in themselves, their own potential, their power to shape their future, and the ability to stand in who they are. All of which trickles down to everyone else around them, from their relations to those who know them only as the children who walk down their street to school.
Destiny started as an after-school program, teaching students in various Bay Area elementary schools martial arts and how to de-escalate violence and conflicts. From this the program expanded, teaching dance, martial arts, and theatre to a diverse group of kids mostly from low-income and mostly youth of color. These days the organization is popular with kids and parents alike. On Yelp parents sing its praises:
• “[Destiny is] a community that teaches the virtues of power through peaceful actions.”
• “Destiny has not only transformed young people’s lives, I have seen it save lives”
• “I…was once again inspired by their dedication, talent, and passion for making the world a better place to live.”
• “I have worked with youth groups for nearly thirty years, and I have never come across an organization as genuine and talented as Destiny Arts.”
One of the things Destiny encourages in their philosophy and in their students is community. Through the practices kids learn to develop confidence in themselves and are able to extend generously to those around them. Some come out of their shells, some soften, all of them begin to find a way into who they really are. In a recent newsletter, Executive Director Cristy Johnston-Limon talked about the affect young people at Destiny have had on their communities through their performance:
“In a show they co-wrote, youth engaged with issues from climate change to stereotyping and homophobia. They charged forth with their analysis and personal stories, even in the face of peer/social pressures that embrace the status quo and reinforce mechanisms of oppression, isolation, prejudice and violence. And in turn, their stories inspired us all. So the change just keeps rippling out.
“In short, at Destiny we arm our youth with the courage and tenacity to dream of a more peaceful world; we capture their imaginations and facilitate the call for a more just and equitable society. We inspire young people to be who they want to be, regardless of circumstance, and to become global citizens in the process. It is a great honor and privilege to work alongside the leaders of tomorrow.”
The ability to work alongside tomorrow’s leaders goes beyond the space Destiny has in North Oakland. Their off-site program, PROJECT Destiny, is one that stretches them out into schools around the East Bay. Instructors might teach martial arts, for instance, at schools in Richmond, Oakland, or Hayward. In these after-school programs with PROJECT Destiny students learn how to deal with external conflict by using the Five Fingers of Violence Prevention, some of which teaches students that martial arts are skills to be used carefully and thoughtfully when all else fails, following one of the principles of Destiny which is ultimately to prevent violence from happening at all.
Every spring Destiny students create and perform a play that includes dance, socio-political messages, and theatre. And by socio-political, I mean just that. They’ve covered topics like racism, homophobia, war, global warming–anything that affects them and their communities. This past spring their play, Free: Voices from the Curbside, addressed name-calling, stereotypes, child sexual abuse and global warming. Youth have entered dance and martial arts tournaments and garnered awards and so has the organization, including the Youth Empowerment Award from the Alameda County Office of Education and Bank of America’s Neighborhood Excellence Initiative for their excellent work with young people. But really, both of those pale in comparison to the awards they’ve won in the minds and hearts of each of the students who pour in through Destiny’s doors every year and stay and learn how to be better at being human so that message can be delivered, somehow, to everyone in their communities and beyond.
Learn more about Destiny Arts
Read the Destiny Arts newsletter
Watch the Destiny Arts Flash Mob