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Express Yourself Milwaukee Reaches Kids Through the Arts

For the last fifteen years, a project called Express Yourself Milwaukee has tried to break the cycle of violence and change hearts and minds through the arts. Every year, the group’s activities culminate in a public performance. This year's performance is called Illuminate and it aims to shine a light on the positive things going on in the lives of people. 

Lori Vance is founder and co-executive director of Express Yourself, which works with kids of all ages to engage them in the arts.

"We immerse young people in multi-arts. So music, dance, poetry, visual art, and theater arts," says Vance. "And through that immersion we connect... young people with themselves, their inner abilities, their ability to connect and belong with each other and their ability to express themselves to the community at large."

The group serves about 1,200 students every year, including kids held at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake.

Adebesi Agoro is a musician and part of the artistic staff of Express Yourself. He believes the main difference between Express Yourself Milwaukee and other similar groups is that the program tries to really work with kids who are going through a rough patch and might be acting out. Instead of drawing hard rules for behavior, they treat the kids as individuals. 

"Each of our teams have a therapist on the team, as a team lead," says Vance. They work with students to make them feel like they're in a safe environment.

"I think a lot of the kids we work with have kind of traditional ways of interacting with each other, and we come in and say, 'Let's do this a little bit differently. Let's take some risks with each other,'" she says. "And I think artists like Adebesi that work with us bring in their skill but are also willing to be vulnerable with kids and share themselves." 

Illuminate takes place Thursday, May 12 at 6:30 pm at the Milwaukee Theatre.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.