Not only has our work enriched the lives of local youths, it has also changed negative perceptions about hip hop culture.
Hip-hop saved my life. I know that sounds like a cliché or hyperbole, but it really did. I’ve been a rapper for 20-plus years; I dabble in DJing and have a large network of friends and colleagues who represent all strands of hip-hop expression, including breakdancing and graffiti art. Being immersed in hip-hop culture gave me the gift of direction that many of my teenage peers lacked.
At some point in my late 20s, I had a vague idea about starting a program to pass on this gift of hip-hop to a younger generation. My friends and local breakdance empresarios, Bobbi Vie and Raymond “Nasty Ray” Mora, shared this vision, and so we formed FutureArtsNow! From the outset our goal has been to provide creative expression classes to youths who could not otherwise afford these experiences.
We are a small, for-profit entity that currently runs hip-hop–based afterschool programs in Alum Rock, Evergreen, and Franklin McKinley school districts. In addition, through a partnership with the city of San Jose, we host an open gym for hip-hop dancers and very affordable hip-hop dance classes for youths, ages 6 through 12. Our weekly gatherings at the Edenvale Community Center have become a hub for the local hip-hop dance scene and have drawn dancers from all over the world as well, including from Brazil, the Netherlands, and Canada. Not only has our work enriched the lives of local youths, it has also changed negative perceptions about hip-hop culture. This shift in perception has manifested itself in the production of two outdoor hip-hop festivals done in collaboration with San Jose Jazz and San Jose Parks Foundation.
Using hip-hop as a vehicle for youth development and community building has earned us accolades; we were honored at the 2016 State of the City Celebration and received a 2013 Service to Youth Award by San Jose Job Corps. Perhaps one of the most gratifying parts of our journey with FutureArtsNow! is watching youths who took our classes continue to develop their craft and become instructors with our program, including the following staff and volunteers.
Joseph “Scarface” Felix
When we first met Scarface, he was a raspy-voiced sixth grader doing daredevil breaking moves on the blacktop at Fischer Middle School. He instantly gravitated toward our program and has orbited the FutureArtsNow! universe ever since. Fearless and freakishly athletic, Scarface brings an intensity to breakdancing that is unmatched by his peers. Our resident session wild man, he is the first to take his shirt off and howl at the moon after completing a power move. Outside of the dance circle, he is really chill, exuding a surfer vibe. Scarface is also a willing mentor, always encouraging younger b-boys to perfect their craft.
William “Billy the Kid” Wakefield
Billy the Kid has literally grown up in FutureArtsNow! He started off as a fourth-grade student in our afterschool program. When he aged out and went to middle school, he was our most consistent volunteer, and eventually, in his high school years, he became part of our paid staff. Billy is the first point of contact for those who visit our community center open session and knows and sees all that goes on in our hip-hop enclave. Billy is also a budding street-fashion aficionado who succeeds in making us feel really old.
Alex “Prince Ali” Flores
Prince Ali is one of the Bay Area’s best poppers and a master teacher of hip-hop dance. Prince Ali exudes a quiet sensei vibe, never raising his voice but somehow always holding the attention of students ages 6 to 60. Perhaps it’s his ability to take the seemingly robotic movements of poppin’ and make them appear seamless and fluid. His great gift as a dancer is his ability to connect with music in an intimate way. When Prince Ali is in the zone, his improvised moves seem intricately choreographed for whatever song he is dancing to.
Michael “Majin” Vu
Majin is as quiet and unassuming as they come. In a boy band, he would definitely be the shy one. His reserved nature belies the incredible creativity and athleticism he brings to breakin’. Inspired by the leg-swipe moves performed by Jackie Chan in the classic martial arts film Drunken Master, Majin has honed a style that curves where others go straight. His ability to contort his body in unorthodox forms and create physical contours when most b-boys would be angular is his movement genius. In addition to being an amazing dancer, Majin has been a consistent volunteer for FutureArtsNow!
Written by Demone Carter, Program Director and Co-Founder
Photography by Daniel Garcia
This article originally appeared in Issue 8.3 “Show”