Cork Migrant Centre Youth Initiative nurtures the resilience of young teenagers living in or just transitioned from Direct Provision centres in Cork. The charity provides free maths grids, homework clubs, and visual and performing arts workshops.
One such workshop is the Hip-Hop class which is comprised of 15-20 young asylum seeking/refugee/migrant youth aged 13-16. The classes are facilitated by Stevie G, who has a wealth of experience running hip-hop workshops for the vulnerable population in Cork. He is assisted by Andrea Williams, a professional dance instructor who runs her own hip-hop club in Cork.
We got in touch with the mentors of CMC Youth Initiative to ask them about their experiences working with the teens and their thoughts on the BLM movement.
Q: How did you get involved with CMC?
Stevie G: About 3 or 4 years ago there was a meeting called, and various people in the community were asked to volunteer. I had good experience working with teens so it was logical that I helped take this project on!
Andrea: I was invited by Stevie G and Naomi [Masheti, Coordinator of Cork Migrants Centre] who had already been doing some projects with some of the girls. It was more or less 3 years ago. I had a full-time job at the time so I would finish work and come to the centre to be with them and have dance classes. I fell in love straight away with the girls.
Q: What does a typical afternoon with the CMC teens look like (before lockdown)?
Stevie G: We meet up and shoot the breeze and have fun for about 15 minutes, then we get to work, which is also fun! Sometimes it’s a bit mad as Andrea is usually the teacher trying to control them all, but we somehow manage and we certainly miss it now. She is an amazing teacher.
Andrea: It depends a lot on the days, as in the beginning we had 10/15 girls but then the numbers went up with some of the Direct Provisions centres joining us. The maximum I once had in the room was probably nearly 40! They are amazing and have an infinite source of energy which we have to keep up with!
I’m there to teach but I always end up learning from them too. It’s a constant exchange of experiences, hopes, dreams and culture. I called them my baby’s.
Q: Have you had any engagement with the teens during lockdown and what has that been like?
Stevie G: Andrea has done some online zoom dance classes, and we’ve also done some art projects with Shane O’Driscoll of Cork Printmakers and now we are doing a Black Lives Matter mural at Nano Nagle Place with Kate O’Shea steering it with the kids! It’s been good to keep active! Some of them were involved in our CMC Youth Initiative Against Racism too so these last few weeks have been crazy busy! We also visited Millstreet and Macroom to deliver the laptops for the Laptops for Lockdown fundraiser to some of the kids, which was great!
Andrea: Yes, I try to check on them, we also had few online classes and they were also involved in some other art projects with other mentors from the centre. We always keep contact with them and try to make them feel needed and valued.
Q: How do you think the teens have benefited from the after-school programme?
Stevie G: It’s been amazing. When Rayaa first joined us she was about 10 or 11 and even the older ones, like her sister Aaliyah, was only 13. Some of that group have been with me solidly for 3 years and Andrea for nearly all of that time too and the change and maturity has been incredible, and their confidence and self-esteem has definitely benefited. They are all really creative on multiple levels. Andrea and I used talk about this all of the time when we were with them every week, the change has been remarkable.
Andrea: I think they have massively benefited from the program in a sense that is a secure, fun environment where they learn from me, Stevie and the other mentors but they also feel free to create and be themselves.
Their confidence has improved so much, I remember in the beginning most wouldn’t speak or share their opinions but now they feel empowered to speak, create and be what they are, Awesome teenagers!
The key I think is to make them feel comfortable and let them know that they are not any different from other teenagers.
Q: Have the teens taught you anything important during your time with them?
Stevie G: We have both learned a lot about the various backgrounds that these teens have, and it’s helped us understand more about the complexities of their various situations. The two of us are in music and the arts so are pretty tuned in, but we both have learned so much from these youngsters.
Andrea: I think the biggest lesson I learned from them is resilience, how not to give up from your dreams even when all the odds are against you. How to be strong when that’s the only thing left for you to do. They always have a smile for you and that’s what I love about them the most.
Q: Do you have a standout memory/moment from working with the teens?
Stevie G: Our first big show at Africa day in Fitzgerald’s Park was very special but overall I think the best memory was when we first welcomed the guys from Millstreet to a summer camp last year with GMC Beats, and all of the kids from all different backgrounds created original music, dance and other magic for 3 solid days.
Andrea: Besides the laughter and some emotional moments, what stands out for me was a day a group of girls just openly start talking with us about some unfortunate situations that happened to them in life and they felt no one cared. I felt I was doing something big because they trusted me enough to share those, they felt I cared. In general, I have very proud moments with them I will cherish forever.
Q: What is a message you think is important to highlight given the current BLM movement to the people of Cork?
Stevie G: We need to listen to our young people. We need to give them a voice. And we all need to work together and stand strong against hate while continuing to practice and preach love through music, art, dance, conversation and listening.
Andrea: I think people need to acknowledge that racism is not only an American problem, and this is the time for action. With Ireland growing to be a very multicultural country it’s important people see multiculturalism as a normal thing.
In 10-20 years there will be a large number of mixed kids and they need to feel this is their country too. There is no longer a space for intolerance and only education will provide that, it starts at home and schools.
To find out more about Stevie G and Andrea’s work with the CMC teens, follow them on their social media. To start (or continue) your anti-racism education, follow the link below to a list of resources put together by the Cork Migrant Centre Youth Initiative.