Senior Program Manager Nichelle Brown spends much of her time volunteering and teaching performing arts and life skills to inner-city youth at the All Star Talent Show Network in New Jersey (ASTSN).
“A lot of young people don’t dream anymore,” said Brown who joined the All Star performing arts program as a rap-artist and single mother on Welfare from Far Rockaway, Queens 21 years ago.
“Our goal is to get youth off of the streets and into the program to do what they love on the hopes that they are willing to learn what we can teach them,” she said in an interview.
Brown became a volunteer and event organizer at All Star after achieving a title of “first female rapper to win the All Stars Project’s National Finals.” She was later recognized for her prestigious volunteer work and featured in Newsday, The Daily News, and on NBC 4’s Positively Black. She currently runs the All Star Talent Network in New Jersey and works with seven other staff members.
“The program gave me the opportunity to network with people and learn new things as a presenter, spokesperson, and activist in the community,” said Brown. “It gave me encouragement to want to change and grow.”
The All Star Talent Show Network, which is also offered in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco is an “afterschool performance-based enrichment program” made available for local children in poor communities from the ages of 5 to 25. The children, under the direction of trained staff and volunteers, produce and perform shows that include dance, singing, rap, spoken word, and plays at local school auditoriums. Additionally, they learn how to organize productions through hands on experience gained from working as staff in their own productions. The youth work on correcting technical issues with lighting and sound, marketing their shows, working security, selling tickets at the box office, and management.
Auditioning for the part
The youth in the program are recruits from the street corners of Newark who come in and audition for guaranteed spots. They split up into workshops and proceed to share poems, dreams, and thoughts on improving their communities. Some of the ideas discussed are about getting the drug dealers off of the streets, turning lots into playgrounds that are safe for playing, replacing abandoned buildings, and doing away with bullying in the school systems. They perform their ideas and dreams in a skit as the last step in the workshop.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who were very shy at first, but it makes me feel good to see that they step up to play bigger roles and speak out more about issues in our communities,” said Brown. “Our program teaches the children to speak out and stand for something.”
History of the program
In the summer, the group produced an event composed of youth performers from Newark, East Orange, Montclair, Irvington, and Jersey City for the first time at the Montclair Art’s Museum, and it was a success. The next event will be held on Saturday February 25, at 11:00 am at the Orange Preparatory Academy on Central Avenue in Orange, New Jersey. Brown said she is trying to expand the after-school program events to Patterson, Irvington, and throughout New Jersey in 2012. Over 500 children participated in the program in 2011.
The All Star Talent Network is sponsored by the All Star Project, Inc., and its New Jersey Headquarters is on Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. Just recently, for the first time in All Star’s 12 year existence in Newark, they opened a performing arts and development center called Scott H. Flamm for young people to participate in the programs. The All Star Project is primarily funded by donors and 100’s of major corporations, such as PSE&G, Dun and Bradstreet, Lexis-Nexis, and Met Life. The corporations offer paid internships giving the children exposure to career skills according to Brown. Many of the business partnerships for the All Star Project, Inc. are initiated by CEO and President Gabrielle L. Kurlander, who is responsible for building the ASP’s budget to $7 million through private sources. Today, the ASP employs 45 people in four cities, reaches 10,000 youth, and has over 900 people volunteering annually according to its website.
For more information: Nichelle Brown at 973-622-5506 Ext. 302 or firstname.lastname@example.org.