Express Yourself Milwaukee is a bright spot in the lives of thousands of Milwaukee's most at-risk children and teenagers.
It's a safe place in the inner city, focusing on music and art. The organization serves youth ages 7-21, about half of whom are in foster care, group homes, the juvenile justice system, or incarcerated at Lincoln Hills. The other half are at serious risk for landing in any one of those places.
On Monday, the kids got a special visit from alternative hip-hop group, Arrested Development. The grammy-winning band is best known for songs like "Tennessee," and "People Everyday." Arrested Development is lead by a man called "Speech." Many in Milwaukee know him as Todd Thomas, a Rufus King High School graduate, who still has a strong desire to make Milwaukee better.
"There's people out there that want you to win," he told the kids. "You all have a unique gift."
Demetrius Gulliford, 19, has a passion for playing instruments, got to jam with Arrested Development.
"It was very inspiring to see Speech and to hear their stories," Gulliford said.
Coming to "Express Yourself Milwaukee" and playing music everyday - rather than getting caught in the wrong place or crowd - is saving Gulliford's life.
"I've seen a lot of my peers go down the wrong path," he said. "I don't judge. I just know to get where I want to be, I can't focus on what everybody else is doing. I have to keep my mindset on the right things."
Too many of the kids this organization serves have already experienced far too much pain in their young lives.
"I remember witnessing a shoot out, and my best friends brother, he was on the ground and dead," said Amiah Tucker. "It's a horrible thing to see, and to then have in your head."
Tucker has lived in four group homes, and attempted suicide more than once.
"I was so focused on my pain," she said. "I was going through all this stuff, and I just wanted to end it all. But now, I think of the people I'd hurt if I did it."
Through Express Yourself Milwaukee Tucker has finally found a family.
"You just getting a feeling of warmth here," she said. "I just really felt welcomed."
The goal is to help these young people - and others like them in our city - recognize their own talent and worth.
"I want them to know that life is deeply important, and they're valuable," Thomas said. "No one should let their gifts go to waste. Hopefully, through efforts like this, we can help make that transformation happen."
The Milwaukee Bucks helped make the event with Arrested Development possible.
To learn more about Express Yourself Milwaukee or to help the organization, you can visit their website at www.exyomke.org
A show featuring the work of these kids, as well as professional artists, is being held on Thursday May 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Historic Milwaukee Theater. It is free and open to the public.