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Arts students lead community youth to creative pathways and brighter futures

By Antoinette Mercurio

Th?nk Wear

Faculty of Arts students worked with Regent Park youth on a six-week leadership program teaching them various arts disciplines such as photography, dance and poetry.

Fashion can say a lot about who you are.

For 180 Grade 9 students from the Regent Park neighbourhood of downtown Toronto, t-shirts have become a symbol of their identity.

Th?nk Wear is a six-week program founded by two Ryerson Faculty of Arts students, Simonette Deslandes and Joycelyn Amos, who wanted to teach marginalized youth leadership through the arts. Together with fourth-year criminal justice students Gloria Antwi and Femi Lawson, Deslandes and Amos worked with youth from the Pathways to Education program to create 18 customized t-shirts reflecting their identity within their community. The t-shirt designs will be unveiled this Thursday.

"There's a lot of talented youth in these marginalized communities but we don't hear about them," Deslandes said. She adds that Th?nk Wear is also meant to bridge the gap between the Regent Park neighbourhood - built as Canada's largest public housing complex - and Ryerson..

"A lot of the youth didn't even know Ryerson was so nearby. We wanted to expose them to post-secondary education, show them around campus and encourage them that university is within reach," Deslandes said.

In addition to the four student leaders, 15 other Ryerson students volunteered to help, meeting with the community teens three times a week to introduce different arts disciplines such as poetry, dance, photography and theatre. Artists in the community were brought in to teach the youth. Each week the Grade 9 students used their newfound knowledge and skills to create a unique t-shirt design.

"We wanted them to define their identities as Regent Park youth and teach them to be outspoken in their community," Deslandes said. "They're really underestimated. I saw them come out of their shell in this program and become interested in art. They're not given the credit they're due because of the community they come from."

Deslandes and Amos worked as ambassadors for the First Generation project at Ryerson, a program aimed at increasing the number of first-generation immigrants in post-secondary schools. The project partners with Pathways to Education in Regent Park to mentor youth and it was through this partnership that Deslandes and Amos discovered the potential for arts programming.

The teens' t-shirt designs will be unveiled at an arts showcase taking place Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the Ryerson Student Campus Centre. A camera, theatre tickets and dance lessons will be awarded to the students who showed the most enthusiasm for pursuing their chosen medium.

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