Ashley Bermudez, Former Human Resources and Program Manager
Some of you here may know me personally, others may have only heard of me, and the rest are probably wondering when I’ll get to the point. My name is Ashley and I worked for Kids Creative for 7 years, the longest job I’ve ever had...thanks Adam! During those 7 years I worked 5 different positions, my favorite was when I miraculously became the Human Resources and Program Coordinator. Yea...idk either. But being in this position required me to work with Adam every day. Every. Single. Day. And I couldn’t have asked for a better boss, who became a friend, and ultimately my mentor. Adam showed me what real professional patience and work ethic looks like. Everyday he came to work and gave everything because he believed and still does, that children’s voices and creativity need to be heard and can be done through quality after school and summer camp programs. I knew when I had my oldest daughter Malia, there wasn't another program I'd want her enrolled in for the summer. I'm pretty sure I tried to get her in an after school program where she wasn't a student. Working wit the KC team I knew how much effort we put into hiring quality staff, producing great shows, and creating a safe environment for families, it was exactly where I wanted my daughter to be. She's attended for 3 summers and no matter what changes have happened the integrity has stayed the same. I have a youngest daughter as well, Camryn. She'll be starting summer camp next summer to become a part of this amazing family.
It took me a few years into motherhood to realize that these people and those programs had a hand in preparing me to be the mother I am. All the carefully curated curriculum, all the consideration for the inclusion of the kids we were teaching, all the love we demanded our instructors to have for their craft has become ingrained in me so deeply that it’s affected the way i communicate with my kids. It’s affected the way I love them and the way i explore life with them. Kids Creative has cemented its way into my life more than I can explain, there’s actually no reason why I still remember DOH addresses and how to log into online systems for background checks on staff. So I’d like to thank you Adam. Thank you for always being encouraging, patient, and one of the kindest men I have ever met. And with that being said, Co-Founder of Kids Creative, the greatest theater-based children’s program ever, Adam Jacobs.
Adam Jacobs, Co-Founder and Former Executive Director
Hi. Thanks for joining us tonight at CREATE. Like Ashley said, my name is Adam Jacobs and I’m honored to be honored as one of the co-founders of Kids Creative.
I’m here to take you on the journey of a spark. A spark ignites electricity that travels along a wire, bringing electricity, light, heat, and more from one place to the next to the next, until it has reached an entire community. A spark starts the flame that keeps us connected.
A spark can also be an idea that charges us and ignites our excitement, collaboration, and confidence, and gets passed from one person to another. That spark has the potential to galvanize a group of people and create an immediate connection, even if we have just met. I believe that spark even has the potential to foster peace.
At Kids Creative, our motto is “All ideas are good”. Some see our motto and say, “That’s just not true”. But we challenge that notion: the idea itself may not foster peace. For meaningful peaceful interactions, we need to focus on how each idea, and in turn each person, is responded to and valued. While an idea can be very powerful, it’s only the start. I’m not an electrical engineer, but I do know that to ensure that electricity reaches everyone, the spark needs to conduct energy along a wire without blockage. It’s actually how we react to someone’s idea that determines how that energy is passed from one person to another. When everyone in the room says Yes!, it can help spark self-confidence, and others are encouraged to share more ideas and this excitement becomes palpable. If treated right, this energy can drive a community.
However, if not handled correctly, the line can be blocked. Negative reactions to ideas, such as saying “No” or “That’s a bad idea” or “That will never work” as soon as an idea is shared, can not only stop someone from sharing, but it can also lead us to stifle our own ideas. Think back to a time in your life when instead of saying “Yes” to your idea, someone responded to you by saying “No”. What was it like? Did you feel like you were stopped? Did it frustrate you, make you feel sad, angry? What did it feel like physically? Does it make you slump, nauseous, worse? You may have even questioned your own validity in sharing more ideas in the future. When we question the vailidity of our ideas, it can lead to self-doubt and a blockage to pursuing peace. The spark can change all of that.
When I entered college, I explored conflict resolution through a degree in international politics, thinking I would work in peacebuilding for the UN. Then, during the summer between my Junior and Senior years, my older brother Stephen asked me to join him to run a 2-week camp where kids wrote and produced a musical play. We had worked together before, and it was always fun, so why not? It would be a nice break. Little did I know that creating the musical "00-Chicken, 00-Duck, Secret Agent Spies in the Land of Dr. Huggahbuggah" with those 12 kids that summer would teach me more about conflict resolution than I learned studying conflicts around the world in school.
That summer, I found a spark that led me on an 18-year journey exploring peace education, youth development, and the challenge of running a nonprofit organization in NYC. My brother and I started Kids Creative, and realized that we were doing more than just writing music and plays. We were creating a space where peace was possible. We were helping kids (and ourselves) normalize conflict resolution in a way that was meaningful and beneficitial to their lives.
The process at Kids Creative is pretty simple: “All ideas are good” and “Yes, and”. We realized that how someone reacts to an idea is sometimes more important than the idea itself. Others may perceive our reactions to new ideas as a demonstrating of how we treat them as people. So when one person says something, the other person says, “Yes, and”. Music, theater, visual art, storytelling, video making, these are all vehicles we use to engage, so that we get the chance to say Yes.
Not all ideas are used in the final project that the kids create. Some ideas can be violent or dangerous, but we found that instead of saying “No” right away, we needed to challenge ourselves to help the children imagine non-violent and safe alternatives without saying no. We found that the editing process could wait, but the more that we maintained the momentum of the initial spark, the more buy-in we had from our children and from each other. Saying, “That’s an interesting idea, can you tell me more?” to a potentially violent idea actually did more for building peace and minimizing violent ideas that came up than saying “No”.
There are two types of peace, both important to understand—negative or reactive peace, and positive or proactive peace. Negative peace means stopping a fight or a war. Simply getting the two sides to stop being violent. When violence happens, we have to have tools to stop specific actions.
Kids Creative sets up spaces so that violence doesn’t have to happen. We have tools to mitigate conflicts, and found that we reduced violent and disruptive behavior in our programs by about 90%. We started saying “No teasing or fake teasing, no fighting or fake fighting,” and “it’s up to the person who is being teased to define teasing”. So instead of a child getting upset and saying “I was just kidding,” we remind them their words and actions have an impact on others. We aimed to identify what potentially could spark anger, and try to find alternatives.
In the outside world, there are systems in place that create violence, such as poverty, racism, unchecked aggression, and our classes try to help youth identify ways to work as a community to lift each other out of these negative spaces of violence, which are deep and systemic. We believe that the more people understand how to recognize systems of violence, we can truly reach a more equitable, peaceful world. If we find a way to be proactive and positive, the process of searching for that spark helps us create peace.
Kids Creative strives for more and more youth to enjoy fun, creative experiences, whether through free Creative Saturdays workshops, free after school and summer programs in Harlem and The Bronx, or providing scholarships to over 50% of participants in the Upper West Side Summer Camp. The programs also strive to empower youth to engage with others inside our schools, and to manage relationships and conflicts that arise outside of the safe space we set up. As I exit my role as Executive Director, I have worked with the Board and staff to ensure that these programs are sustained, and your support tonight and ongoing is essential. Donations to Kids Creative allow this small team to have a large reach, and the over 1,000 participants in Kids Creative programs benefit in the short and long term.
I want to thank the amazing KC staff, campers and families, Board past and present, KC donors and my Family--Ari, Tabitha, Stephen, my parents and all of the other family members who joined us.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening. Please speak with others, whether you know them or not, and ask how arts education was important in their lives. Talk about teachers who inspired you. Talk about what makes a space safe for you. And then put a value on giving those opportunities to a 5-year-old in East Harlem, an 11-year-old on the Upper West Side, or a 17-year-old from the South Bronx. And then bid on items, become a sustaining member, make a donation. Help KC continue to show kids that they rock!