Every positive relationship begins with a foundation in safety. As we come to know ourselves, another individual, or society at large, a sense of security is what allows us to progress towards more intimate and rewarding connections. When people feel safe there is opportunity to take risks, make mistakes, and learn through experience – all of which are crucial components in developing to our fullest potential.

At many points in our lives, our personal safety feels threatened. We can become overwhelmed by our emotional and physiological reactions, and feel as though we’re not in total control of our own bodies. When this happens, the situation we’re in is capable of resulting in violence.

Destiny Arts Center, a North Oakland organization rooted in developing youths’ conflict prevention and intervention skills, defines violence as “the forceful result of uncontrolled feeling.” Through participation in the performing and martial arts, young people learn techniques in establishing self-control and diffusing or avoiding potentially harmful situations.

Programming in dance, theatre, and martial arts explores the connection between emotion and action. “By developing skills, by forging meaningful, authentic connections with their peers and with caring adults, and by experiencing opportunities to express themselves and be heard, they are positioned to care better for themselves and others,” says Ethan Zatko, program manager of Destiny.

Originally, Destiny emerged in 1988 as an after-school martial arts program at local Oakland elementary schools in response to violence that founder and martial artist Kate Hobbs had been sensitized to. As word spread, youth became increasingly interested in other forms of empowering movement, and programs expanded to include the performing arts. This past October, Destiny was finally able to claim a space all their own through a six-year fundraising campaign, and now serves over 4,000 youth annually.

Camille, an older performing artist in her third year, reflects on her own growth throughout her involvement with Destiny, “Destiny helped me set higher expectations for myself. I don’t rely on others to motivate me.” She endearingly illustrates her experience as a “little pod to big tree.”

Such confident transformations ripple out into the community through a series of performances by Destiny students, whose messages reach up to 20,000 audience members in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area. Themes of these recitals are generated by raw and often rigid moments in the lives of the performers, “[Destiny students] work through their personal and social issues on stage, which has a lasting effect on the audience. The underlying message is a call for connection,” describes Zatko.

That connection that Zatko talks about, otherwise known as social capital, is exactly what keeps communities healthy, productive, and safe. As an arts-based cultural hub, Destiny Arts Center also provides family programming, adult classes, and partners with Phat Beets for Saturday farmers markets located on site.

Weekly summer camp sessions at Destiny for youth ages seven through twelve begin on July 28 and run for three weeks. To enroll a child in their camp, or to see more opportunities to become involved coming up in the fall, click here.

For more information on the impact arts education and participation has on individuals, society, and the global community, click here.

About The Author

Simone writes about the currents circulating beneath mainstream, with a focus on non-profit developments and at-risk youth enrichment. Outside of freelancing for Oakland Local, she works in the foster care system of Contra Costa County and nerds out on literary magazines. Simone also spearheads the Community Voices section of OL. Contact her at simonelarson@oaklandlocal.com

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