Members of the Destiny Arts Youth Dance Company
Tucked away in two rooms in a tiny school in the Longfellow community, is one of Oakland’s most precious treasures: The Destiny Arts Center.
Destiny Arts Center, known simply as “Destiny” by its members, is a violence prevention and arts education program whose mission is to “move” young people to peace. Since they first opened their doors in 1988, Destiny has provided martial arts, theater and dance programming to more than 1500 youth a year. While Destiny is located in Oakland, young people travel from as far as Richmond to attend classes. They come from communities just as diverse as the shoes and clothes they wear, but they all have one thing in common: They love to move.
Destiny nurtures the physical, emotional and spiritual development of youth, ages 3-18, through after-school, weekend and summer programs. More than a dance studio or dojo, Destiny supports youth in developing their artistic expression, encouraging them to share the stories of growing up in a rapidly changing world and city like Oakland through performing arts. For many of these youth, Oakland is offering more than their fill of inspiration. Since 2002, Oakland has seen a steady loss of children and youth.
According to Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, as a percentage of the total population, youth now comprise less than a quarter of Oakland residents, the lowest ratio in the past twenty years. Yet, they make up the largest subgroup of homicide victims in this city. African Americans are 24 times, Hispanics four times, and Asians three times more likely than whites to be arrested and booked into the Alameda Juvenile Justice Center. Other factors contributing to the decline in youth population is family displacement due to increased rents, moving to other East Bay communities for better schools and of course, the fear of being a victim of violence.
Oakland can be a wonderful but worrisome place to navigate for a young person. Destiny changes that reality for its participants. Keith, who is 17, shares his experience. “I came for dance, but I found so much more. I found people that cared about me. That’s really what kept me coming back. You feel the love as soon as you walk in the door.”
Like many participants, Keith was introduced to Destiny Arts through their satellite classes located in schools all over the East Bay. “When I got to Street Academy High School, I took the Destiny class because I wanted to work on my Michael Jackson moves. My teacher saw how much I loved to dance and told me I should try out some more classes at Destiny Arts. Twice a week, I rush over from school to Destiny. Those are the two days of the week that I look forward to.” Destiny offers programming weekdays from 3-7p. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, this is when most violent juvenile offenses are likely to occur.
This year they will celebrate their 25th birthday and there is much to be excited about. After years of leasing space in churches and schools, they will finally be packing up for the last time to move to a beautiful new home, in the Lowell Street Corridor, only blocks away from their current location in North Oakland’s Longfellow community. The new 967 Stanford Avenue facility is accessible by car, foot, bicycle and public transit, and is proximal to public schools and parks.
For the last 4 years, Destiny Arts has shared space with the North Oakland Community Charter School, but they have outgrown the two rooms they rent there. Executive Director, Cristy Johnston-Limon is looking forward to how their programs will expand, now that they will have adequate space. “We are currently limited by space. With long wait lists for our classes and consistent displacement of our programs by our landlord, we needed to find a place that could accommodate our growing community.”
The Lowell corridor is the intersection of three distinctly different communities; North Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley. As an already well established and respected force in Oakland with strong ties to the outer East Bay, Destiny will help to bridge these communities together and serve as a hub for families from all three communities to congregate for arts, social and academic development, connection and fun. “Our approach to community building is incredibly unique. We intentionally leverage young peoples involvement in Destiny programs to engage their families and facilitate community development in Oakland. By engaging young people in meaningful ways, we enjoy a powerful entry point to serve entire families and their communities," says Johston-Limon.
Similar to what youth experience at Destiny, Johnston-Limon finds that parents forge new relationships; address issues of class, race, privilege and social change; learn about themselves and others; and ultimately alter the way they interact with individuals who are different than them. As cities like Oakland struggle to rebuild once vibrant and bustling neighborhoods and commercial hubs, cultural organizations like Destiny can help address disinvestment, build audiences and become mechanisms for rebuilding a sense of place and connection. The hope is that with the expansion of their center, Destiny can create a model that can be replicated in any community.
Destiny is wrapping up their Kickstarter campaign to raise $25, 000 from the online community. The funds raised from Kickstarter will go towards building rehearsal studios where they will hold classes five days a week. It’s critical that they are able to raise the funds now. “If we don't raise all of the money we need to raise, we'll be relying on donated materials, volunteer labor and possibly phasing in the build-out over time, ultimately making the project more expensive.” Johnston-Limon, along side Destiny Arts’ Board of Directors has already raised over $20,000. The kickstarter campaign gives the public and members of the North Oakland community a chance to contribute to the construction of this amazing new community resource.
Its no surprise that Destiny is has been so intentional about how it wants to impact the North Oakland community with this next move. Destiny was founded right here in the area 25 years ago in a modest storefront on San Pablo Avenue. They have moved four times as their programming and community grew.
Destiny will be another amazing addition to Lowell Corridor. Phat Beets, a local co-op that connects local farmers to urban communities through farm stands and farmers markets, recently moved across the street from Destiny’s new home.
For the Lowell Corridor and the surrounding North Oakland community, which is struggling with rapid demographic shifts and the effects of real or perceived displacement and gentrification, Destiny can definitely be a conduit of positive community building and is well positioned to play a critical role in revitalizing the Lowell Street corridor in a way that is inclusive, welcoming and intentional about the needs of both old and new residents.
For more information on Destiny and to participate in the Kickstarter Campaign go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1720192808/new-studios-destiny-arts-center-in-north-oakland