Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How a Little Hip Hop Group is Changing Lives - Northern Elements Crew in Wood Buffalo

Sometimes you get the pleasure of being part of something from the very beginning and watching it grow. The experience is often an incredible one, especially when you see something go from being a small nugget of an idea to a huge success, impacting lives along the way. And that is how it has been with Northern Elements Crew, the local hip hop group that has grown in massive ways since it began - and changed lives.

Earlier this year I wrote a letter of support in the bid to nominate NEC for an award. I like to think I managed to capture the essence of what NEC is and means in this letter, and today I want to share it with you along with a video from a local event hosted by NEC. I went to the event - and it was a blast, confirming everything I have believed about NEC from the start.

It has truly been my honour to watch as Northern Elements Crew has grown, developed and begun to change lives. I have a few favourite organizations in this community, and NEC ranks right up near the top for me - mostly because they always, always manage to make me smile and feel optimistic about our youth and our future. I want to thank them for all they do for our local youth and hip hop enthusiasts - and for allowing me to be part of the journey.

Northern Elements Crew

I am submitting this letter in support of the nomination for Northern Elements Crew. I have had the pleasure of watching Northern Elements Crew from the very beginning of their journey in this community, and I would like to lend my full support to recognizing them with this award.

Northern Elements Crew began last January with a core of some adult community members who have a passion for dance, hip-hop in particular. What began as a small group of adult dance enthusiasts has blossomed into a hip-hop community that has taken the community by storm, and embraced local youth with an interest in hip-hop dance and culture.

As a parent who served on parent council for many years one of my concerns was the number of young adults we were failing to engage in our community. These students, who didn’t always fall into the categories of the “athletes” or the “mathletes” were slipping through the cracks as we were not reaching them through the programs currently being offered in our community. Having spent time with some of the troubled youth and young homeless individuals in our community I knew how easily young people who are not being engaged can lose their identity and fall into difficult lifestyles. I was concerned about these young adults, seeing them as children and becoming young citizens, and I was worried about how we would reach them and provide them with a community in which they could
grow and develop as individuals. I am pleased to say that I have now seen some of these local youth involved with Northern Elements Crew, finding a community based on their shared interest. Through the Northern Elements Crew they are finding adult mentorship, peer support and a group that is encouraging and fostering their development as young adults and citizens.

The weekly practice sessions attract youth from across our community and a wide age demographic. In a safe and supportive environment the youth are learning not only the art of hip-hop dance but the culture and history, instilling in them a sense of the importance of history and culture as it relates to a genre of dance they enjoy while also opening their minds to the general importance of history and culture in our world. The participants have had the opportunity to dance at several community events, 
such as:

• Flash mob at MacDonald Island

• Roller derby Performance at Casman Centre

• Fort McMurray’s First Community Hip Hop Battle

• Unity Day in July

• Young Choreographers Ball

• Grade 7 Youth Conference at Ecole McTavish

• Justin Slade Youth Conference at Westwood High School

• Pink Shirt Day at Ecole McTavish

The key point is that this exploration of hip-hop builds upon an interest they already hold, and is enabling them to develop connections and networks with their peers and with adults who hold similar interests. It is remarkable to see what Northern Elements Crew has accomplished in just over a year, and the potential for continued and increasing positive impact in our region is profound as they are able to welcome more youth and engage even more individuals in the hip-hop community.

What is also remarkable is that these youth, particularly the ones I have been so troubled that we would lose over the years as they grew disaffected with our community, are now forging connections beyond the hip-hop group as they interact with individuals from across the community at the events where they perform. Northern Elements Crew is not only encouraging local youth in the exploration of dance but in developing connections with the community that run deeper than hip-hop and that will, I hope, enable them to find a sense of belonging in our community both in and out of the dance world.

The adult mentors in Northern Elements Crew believe in capacity building, and are fostering capacity in the group by encouraging the youth to become leaders in the group, but my belief is that the skills and abilities they are fostering go far beyond the dance crew. I believe they are building capacity in these young adults to be the leaders of today and tomorrow in whatever occupation or life they choose, and that the leadership skills they are learning with Northern Elements Crew will serve them well through their entire lives.

To summarize I truly believe that Northern Elements Crew is not just teaching hip-hop dance – I firmly believe they are changing the lives of these young adults, and through a shared love of dance they are enabling local youth participants to become part of the fabric of our community. Through the dedication, commitment and passion of the adult mentors in the group the young participants are finding their own and I sincerely believe that this group is quite likely altering the trajectory of some of these young lives. I look forward to seeing what Northern Elements Crew can continue to accomplish and achieve in the years ahead, as what they have founded is nothing short of amazing and I believe we will have future community leaders who will one day cite their experience with this hip-hop community as one of the guiding forces in their life.

Theresa Wells

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