On The Scene with Bianca Phillips at youth program Graffitti Playground 

Remember My Name ...

"Let's go through the Thriller routine again," an instructor says to a room of about 20 kids. "Max, cue the tape."

A curly-haired kid hits "play" on the boom box and takes his place in front of the other kids already assembled in gang formation in the large theater room at Galloway United Methodist Church in Cooper-Young. As the familiar cackle begins the song, Max throws his head back and opens his mouth. When the music starts, he acts out Michael Jackson's part while the rest of the kids become ghouls and goblins.

The youngsters are part of Graffitti Playground (spelled with two "f"s and two "t"s after the program's founder accidentally misspelled the name), a nonprofit performing-arts group for inner-city youth aged 8 to 21. Unlike similar programs, Graffitti Playground is free. The only requirements are dedication and passion.

"I started this program because there's a lot of talented kids here in Memphis, but there aren't very many outlets for them for free," says founder DeWayne Hambrick. "Normally, you'd have to go to a studio for these services and pay an arm and a leg."

Hambrick is no stranger to the performing arts. In high school, he landed a part on Disney's teen dance show, Kids Incorporated. He spent the last 10 years on tour, performing roles in Barney and The Wiggles.

"Every time I'd come back to Memphis, there was just something missing," says Hambrick. "But instead of complaining about it, I decided to do something."

For many of these kids, performing is more than just a hobby, so Hambrick and his eight choreographers (some of whom are students such as Max) teach the kids as though they are attending a professional school. He says he styled the program after the movie Fame and hopes to offer kids a "New York-style experience" by making them work hard to keep their spot on the team.

Every time he holds auditions, each student has to try out all over again, and while he never turns anyone away, they can be bumped down in placement.

"I'm tough on them, and the teachers are tough, but at the same time, they know I truly care about them," says Hambrick.

And it's obvious that he does care. In the music room, about seven kids are talking, and Hambrick asks them to sing a song. One of the girls opens her mouth, and the sound that comes out is so smooth, it could rival any American Idol. Hambrick beams like a proud parent.

The kids are preparing for a July 9th performance of a musical called Big Mama's Birthday at Mitchell High School. They'll also be performing Little Shop of Horrors in the fall. 

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Makers’ Space

      New Crosstown Arts facility is like a gym for artists.
    • Sacking the Bag

      How a plastic bag tax might help the Memphis environment.

Blogs

We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Tiger Blue

Tigers 109, Yale 102 (2 OT)

Tiger Blue

Tigers 28, SMU 18

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Hungry Memphis

Zopita's on the Square to open Nov. 19

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Bianca Phillips

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation