DeAndre Johnson sat on the side of a stage at Savoy Elementary School in Southeast tying green rope around his feet, ankles and legs to practice walking and dancing on wooden stilts.
The energetic 13-year-old, who also plays football for Sousa Middle School in Southeast, comes to assist elementary students at his former school as part of the “Savoy Players” dance troupe.
“Dancing is what I do — it helps me to express my feelings,” he said before prancing around the Savoy cafeteria standing more than nine feet high. “I can dance. It makes me feel good.”
DeAndre is part of a program called “Speak Life Tour,” which encourages youth and young adults to express themselves through dance, music, painting and other art forms. He will be one of 15 people from the D.C. area and Baltimore to receive an award during the program’s third annual gala Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Stonefish Grill in Northwest.
Since DeAndre joined the tour in May, he showcased his hip-hop dance moves with other youth in Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, New York City and Norfolk, Virginia.
DeAndre’s mother, Sherita Johnson, admits without dancing his life could be more complicated.
Johnson said DeAndre has a 504 education plan, which permits him to receive certain accommodations to ensure a smooth learning environment without the need for specialized instruction.
Because DeAndre has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Johnson says teachers and other school officials allow her son to dance as a way to calm down. To ensure DeAndre’s grades stay on par, Johnson said she’s seeking a math tutor.
“It just brightens my day up when I see him dance,” Johnson, 34, said while smiling at DeAndre walking on the stilts. “We struggle. Being a single mom, it can be rough living in the Southeast area. It just brings joy to my heart seeing him do what he likes to do. If he doesn’t do nothing else, he’s turn the music on and starts dancing.”
The brainchild behind the tour, Catherine Trotter, 36, of Brentwood, Maryland, said the tour stems from the NB Youth Academy she founded in 2002 after graduating from Morgan State University in Baltimore.
While attending Morgan State, Trotter noticed teenagers constantly walking and posting up on the streets daily.
She planned to attend law school because of her bachelor’s degree in political science. However, she decided to establish a nonprofit to help teenagers and those her age succeed.
DeAndre fits the profile of the academy’s target group ages 12 to 24 who mainly come from single-parent households, are adopted or in foster care.
The Baltimore-based academy holds various programs on learning how to save money, peer mentoring and career planning.
The youth and young adults at the academy, who call Trotter “Ms. Cat,” wanted to have open mic sessions in 2013 for poetry, hip-hop and other spoken-word events that attracted up to 100 youth throughout Baltimore. The following year, the Speak Life Tour was created with young people conducting visual and performing arts locally and in cities along the East Coast.
Besides continuing to help more youth find their artistic talents, Trotter wants to open a second location for her academy next year in Southeast.
“It’s really stimulating the gifts that’s inside of them and motivating them to be what they want to be,” she said. “It’s about youth inspiring other youth.”