‘Breathe’-ing new life into the arts

His real name is Zarious Baxter, but you can just call him Ra-Ra.

According to the South Hopkins Middle School student, he has been dancing since he was 2 years old. On Saturday, he gave the performance of a lifetime when he successfully duplicated every dance move from New Edition's 1988 music video, "If it isn't Love" onstage.

Ra-Ra's performance was part of the Light of Chance Breathe Arts Program's spring showcase -- a youth variety show highlighting every member's efforts during this session's after school program.

"This is the fifth year we have had this program," Founder Eric Logan said. "We give kids a creative outlet to express themselves through the arts, whether it be writing, dance or visual arts.

"Growing up in Madisonville, I was into sports," Logan continued. "But if you're not into sports, there's really not a lot (for kids) to do. Our kids come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and this is a place where these creative kids can come to be themselves."

Logan said 59 Hopkins County students have been participating this spring, and they have been drawing, painting, singing and dancing to their heart's content every Tuesday and Thursday at the Rosenwald-Smith Multicultural Center.

"There is no other program like it in the state," he said. "These kids aren't forced to come -- for a program like this where the kids voluntarily come, that says something."

Logan added that through the program, students are learning transferable life skills, such as team-building, self-esteem, mental and behavioral health.

"This class has worked really hard," Mentoring Artist Tonia Leal said. "The art class has put out more work than they ever have."

This year, students have been creating a multitude of artwork. At Saturday's art gallery, visitors were treated to view a cornucopia of superhero images, cartoon and video game characters, abstract paintings and motivational posters.

"Our goal this summer is to try to get a mural downtown," Leal said. "We have started doing smaller pieces, where the kids have to work together. They are not painting the same thing, but pieces that can go together.

"The older kids are wrapping their arms around the younger kids and helping them make pieces that can work," she continued. "They include them in groups rather than pushing them into smaller groups."

Now that the spring session has officially come to a close, Breathe will take a two-week hiatus. The summer session will begin June 6 and culminate with another arts showcase.

In the meantime, Ra-Ra will keep dancing strong.

By Laura Harvey
Lead Reporter