D.J. Abdul-Rahim stood with his feet apart and knees bent, hoisting a long, wooden stick to practice various blocking techniques.
Abdul-Rahim held the object to choreograph martial arts movements as part of a stage combat class through the CreativeWorks vocational program inside Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier.
He joined about 11 other young Prince George’s County residents as part of a Nov. 20 session that uses the arts to formulate not only diverse forms of creativity but also learn resume writing, interviewing methods and other life skills.
“One thing I enjoy is that there’s an element of family,” Abdul-Rahim, 20, of Suitland said after the mini-workout, which lasted more than an hour. “Joe’s makes you feel welcomed. It may look laid-back, but we work.”
CreativeWorks was established 10 years ago to help those ages 17 to 24 who recently graduated high school, received or are currently in pursuit of a GED, or are first-generation college students enrolled at Prince George’s Community College.
It’s geared to help students of color pursue higher education and career opportunities in theater production, photography and digital media. According to program statistics, about 60 percent of the students are Black and 36 percent Latino, and the majority are from low-income families.
Linda Cameron, college and career coordinator for Joe’s, said the current fall program, which runs from September to January, allows each participant to visit the community college and the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
In addition, each has a financial incentive: a stipend every two weeks between $400 and $600. Those who complete special projects and training can earn a $25 gift card, Cameron said.
Before the students are accepted, they must go through a week of intensive training in August.
For about four months, each must first conduct a performance piece through verbal storytelling of a real-life event such as a parent’s divorce or their first heartbreak.
Next, participants present an “elevator pitch,” speaking with local business and nonprofit officials, before conducting a dream job presentation.
Finally, with the skills each gathered, they produce a stage presentation to showcase before a live audience.
Cameron said each will receive a portfolio donated by Accenture.
“It’s like building a house — without the foundation, that house will crumble,” she said. “You can learn all these individual things, but without the basic skills like being on time for work, how to be professional, then it won’t work.”
Meanwhile, Abdul-Rahim and others listened as Patrick Mullen, theater production manager at Joe’s and a martial arts instructor, gave the five steps of stage combat: focus, distance, timing, off-the-line and focus.
“Focus is on the list twice because it is that important,” Mullen told the group.
Mullen assisted all these students on the proper stance to move forward and backward. Eieriel McKnight, 18, had some trouble holding a wooden stick to resemble a sword in her left hand.
“This feels awkward,” she said.
“Don’t worry, we will switch hands,” Mullen said.
As for McKnight, she graduated in May from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and plans to attend the culinary arts school at Prince George’s Community College in January.
“I do a lot of video editing, but I didn’t know how to photoshop,” she said. “There’s a lot of things we learned that school didn’t teach us like cover letters [and] resumes. When I came here, I was able to learn more about that. This place has really helped me.”