Earlier this week, the younger supporters of Alvin Ailey (known as the Young Patrons) got together to celebrate Ailey II, and I was asked to share some reflections on why Alvin Ailey is meaningful to me.
I joined Alvin Ailey's Young Patron Circle in the fall of 2013, but my relationship with Alvin Ailey started long before then. I went once as a child. My great-grandmother, who had been a maid since the age of 13, wanted to expose her offspring to new experiences. I have a few memories of her taking me and my cousins to shows as a child. There was a Broadway musical I vaguely remember (though I'm quite sure it was Beauty and the Beast) and there was Ailey.
Spending on entertainment was a sacrifice for my grandmother, but it was time with us and experiences she wanted us to have. I remembered Ailey more because I remember seeing people on stage that looked like us and even as a child, I knew how rare this was and it felt magical.
I didn't expect that even in my adulthood, 20 years later, seeing reflections of myself would still be rare and when available, magical. Last weekend, I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I explored many exhibits and while my intent in going wasn’t to see a reflection of myself, the lack of art that reflected me was something I couldn’t help but notice. I asked staff of the museum where I could find such art, and was told that while the museum had many pieces in it's collection, they had decided not to put them on view.
While there have been great strides in increasing representation across the arts, people of color are still underserved, which is why I am super proud to support Ailey as they super serve diverse audiences and show that fine and beautiful art CAN and DOES include people of color.
I joined Ailey’s Young Patrons, when I got promoted into a position at work that finally afforded me the opportunity to spend my paychecks on more than NYC rent. I wanted to support arts, but specifically arts where I saw myself reflected and I am glad this is still the case. While the financial commitment might have seemed low to some, for me it was quite significant. I grew up humbly and at 26, when I joined, I hadn't made any contributions of that size beforehand. Thankfully, I was able to quickly understand the value of my contribution and I was encouraged to give at leadership levels in other organizations as well, and even joined a board (Youth Communication).
As a member and part of the group’s Steering Committee, I’m happy to say Ailey is so much more than beautiful performances. Programs like AileyCamp help provide opportunities to some of the hardest to reach youth. When volunteering last year, I was shocked to hear some of the kids vocalize not being sure if they wanted to finish high school and others saying their plans after graduating high school were to stand on the corner. I shared this with the staff and they told me those are the kids they want.
One of my favorite things about my generation is that we are go-getters and independent thinkers. We don’t need to wait for someone to tell us to make a difference. We can start making a difference in the lives of our community’s youth ourselves. There is so much more I want to do to make that difference, both with Ailey and beyond. Being apart of Ailey's Young Patrons was one of the first places I got started and it's been consistently rewarding ever since.
(Photos by Naya Samuel)