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Arts program providing sanctuary for at-risk children

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Posted at 1:17 PM, Jan 03, 2023

Jasmine Murphy believes her home provides what most should: a place of protection, a stable sanctuary for her three sons. She feels differently about the steps and streets just outside.

In Murphy’s area of Norfolk, Virginia, she says she occasionally hears gunshots and sees crime scene tape.

Murphy and her sons try to spend as much time away from the area as possible. However, they make an exception for T.J.'s acting class on Tuesdays at 6 p.m.
That class takes place at a rec center near their home.

“If they have more things to do at the school, they won’t be starting to the streets,” Murphy said.

Researchers from Rice University studied the impact of arts on elementary school children. They said arts education had been “in steady decline since the 1980s,” but they identified disparities. White students experienced virtually no change in arts education. Hispanic students saw reductions of 40% and Black students by 49%. Low-income communities were the most affected.

Urban Renewal Center runs the acting class that Murphy's son attends. Antipas Harris started the program in a neighborhood less than two miles from Murphy’s. However, he noticed it was still too far for people in Murphy's neighborhood to attend.

“We didn’t get a lot of the kids that we felt could really benefit from a program like this. And we don’t want to do programs that only cater to kids who can access,” Harris said.

The organization moved closer and began reaching out to people in the community.

“One day I was just outside over there by the park, and I just saw people going to this thing. So, I’m like, ‘Let me call my mom and see if I could go there too,” T.J. said.

“They kept sending a message to me. And I was like, 'T.J., what is this?' And then he was like, ‘It’s some class that they have at the rec center every Tuesday,’” Murphy said.

The class has become a stable sanctuary outside the home for T.J.

“It's like a weird little situation when living out here. It's like you have a roof over your head, but at the same time you got to watch your surroundings because we can just watch just a regular day and they’re just doing a drive-by shooting. You don’t know what you are walking out into," Murphy said.