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Urban Nation Celebrates 20-Year Arts Collaboration with Community Youth

Urban Nation, Inc., a nonprofit organization that serves youth throughout the D.C. metropolitan area, recently celebrated 20 years of bringing the community together through music and dance.

Established by musician Rickey Payton Sr., who serves as president and CEO, and Black Entertainment Television (BET) co-founder Sheila Johnson Newman, Urban Nation hopes to continue its mission of engaging young people through the arts.

Located in downtown Silver Spring, Md., Urban Nation helps students achieve arts proficiency with the help of professional mentors and coordinators who provide a fun, yet rigorous educational environment. The organization includes a H.I.P-H.O.P (Hope, Integrity, Power – Helping Our People) Choir, as well as The Urban Nation Academy for the Performing Arts (UNAPA). In addition, The Urban Nation Academy for the Performing Arts, a summer camp program that provides workshops for youths and adolescents teaches vocal and acting skills, improvisation and educational courses on musical instruments.

The organization’s goals are all the more important when placed alongside statistics that point to arts education as a deterrent from youthful pitfalls, including recreational intoxicants. For instance, data released by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health found that adolescents enrolled in music were 26 percent less likely than non-music students to consume alcohol; while 47 percent of dance students were less likely than non-dance students to have used marijuana during adolescence – many of whom feel invisible.

Payton’s inspiration to begin Urban Nation came from his passion to give back to the youth.

“Having experience as a composer, musical director, and producer and seeing both the positive and negative in the community, my goals were and will always be to teach leadership and instill certain values in the youth,” Payton said. “If you can give a child hope and teach them integrity, then that is what empowers them.”

Urban Nation’s H.I.P-H.O.P Choir has performed background vocals for many legendary musicians, including Stevie Wonder and Celine Dion. The choir exercises versatility and singing a plethora of genres, including classical, spiritual, hip-hop, pop, jazz and gospel.

Payton received great support from the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr., founder of The Washington Informer newspaper and co-founder of the United Black Fund, Inc. alongside his wife, Wilhelmina J. Rolark.

“Dr. Rolark supported Urban Nation when it first started, as he was a legend who supported up and coming Black organizations,” Payton said. “Dr. Rolark helped countless Blacks in and around the District.”

Kimberly Bullock, coordinator for The Tots, ages 3-7, has been working with Urban Nation for two years. Her mission is to educate them and incorporate creative lessons such as Spanish and preparations for dancing.

“It’s very rewarding for the younger kids, as they learn new things at an early age before starting a new grade.” In the future, she would like to teach them how to swim and do more outdoor activities to learn more about our culture.

Similarly, Louise Young, UNAPA’s assistant camp director and musician, told the Informer that music helps students blossom both inside the class and within their communities.

“I have witnessed immense growth within my students,” Young said. “Those who were shy and quiet are now out of their shells, gaining self-esteem through the art of music, and being introduced to new things.”

Seeing the success and accomplishments of former students, Payton has an interest to expand Urban Nation, Inc. to Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago, reaching out to different youth groups who would like to get involved with the program.

On Aug. 8-10 at 7:30 p.m., UNAPA will offer a celebratory performance to showcase the work of the youth.

In September, the choir will perform for retiring Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett at The Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md.

For more information, go to www.urbannation.org.

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