In reading my past poems and journal entries, you saw I mentioned an organization called YEPAW (Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop). My family and I just got done participating in the 25th year of YEPAW last week! So, what is YEPAW? Is it really that great that I would keep mentioning it? Well, I’ll tell you…
Over twenty-five years ago, a wonderful woman, Minister Leslie Parker Barnes, became tired and frustrated hearing people tell her “The youth are a hopeless generation.” She knew this statement was false, and thus she set out to prove it. For one week in the summer of 1990, Min. Barnes gathered some teenagers in the basement of the Arlington Church of God (in Akron, Ohio) and taught them a number of songs that they’d perform in a concert at the end of the week. This group became known as the Youth Excellence Gospel Choir. The idea behind this was if young people can learn how to discipline themselves and learn a number of songs in a short amount of time, they could do anything they set their minds to. In 1998, the Youth Excellence Gospel Choir became the Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop, or YEPAW (pronounced “yee-paw”). They weren’t just limited to the basement of the Arlington Church of God anymore – they moved to the campus of the University of Akron. The young participants weren’t just learning songs anymore, either. Now there were classes being offered: drama, creative writing, vocal clinic, orchestra, mime, visual art, video, photography, standard and advanced dance, standard and advanced step, standard and advanced drumline, piano, newsletter, banner praise, extemporaneous speaking, song writing, etc. In 2005, YEPAW began recording all of their songs onto CDs. The young participants were given the challenge of learning 10-14 songs in 3 or 4 days, ready to record them on a CD in the middle of the week! Over the years, YEPAW received more and more participants; in 2006, over 500 young people had registered for YEPAW!
Oh, but it didn’t stop there! The participants voiced their thoughts and feelings about YEPAW lasting longer than a week. Because of this, YEPAW created it year-round leadership program, YEPAW 365, in the fall of 2007. This program, that accepts 50 young people from the 7th to the 12th grades, meets every Monday and listen to speakers talk to them about excellence and living out their dreams. YEPAW has held many fundraisers, hosting concerts and performances by the Dance Theater of Harlem, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, a production of God’s Trombones, and they performed The Wiz twice! In the fall of 2010, YEPAW launched a new program, the YEPAW Institute. The YEPAW Institute, which, sadly, I wasn’t able to be apart of, helps trains those who want to be artists. Singers, musicians, dancers, visual artists – it helps them all. And in the summer of 2013, YEPAW launched its new program, WEPAW, “YEPAW for the ‘wittle’ ones.” This program aids young people between the ages of 4-11. They take drum/rhythm class, choir, and dance class.
YEPAW wants young people to know that they can achieve anything and everything, no matter what it is. In 2003, YEPAW introduced the DREAM. YEPAW wanted young people to live out and apply the DREAM:
D – Dare to be your best. Anybody can be mediocre, but challenge yourself to be the best you can be in everything you do!
R – Respect others, Respect yourself. I can tell how much you respect yourself based on how well you respect other people.
E - Make Excellence the center of your character.
A – Attitude is everything. You can be the cutest, most talented person in the room, and your sorry attitude will close the doors of opportunities.
M – It’s a Double M! Make sure you Master at least one thing. Maybe you can’t sing, but you are so quick to figure out a math problem. Master one thing, and do it so well that you can Minister it, give it away and teach it to someone else.
Since then, we’ve strived to live out the DREAM in so many ways: in 2004, we set out to BELIEVE the DREAM; in 2005 we wanted to PURSUE the DREAM. Then we had to CATCH the DREAM, CHERISH the DREAM, CHOOSE the DREAM, Live the DREAM, Know the DREAM, Experience the DREAM, Discover the DREAM, Capture the DREAM, and this year we wanted to Love the DREAM.
My older brother Bryon and I began YEPAW together in 2004, YEPAW’s 15th year. I was 12 years old. I had no idea what to expect – I didn’t know what YEPAW was or what it stood for. This organization taught me what excellence is, to outdo and surpass, to always be your best. I never thought about being excellent before. I had a dream, but I didn’t consider being excellent with it. YEPAW taught me what that meant and how to do it. YEPAW also taught me that I can do whatever I set my mind to. It let me know that I can make a difference; I can be excellent for God and give Him my everything; I can have a positive effect on the people around me; I can be a leader. YEPAW has poured so much into me and my family over the years, and it is so very special to me! If it weren’t for YEPAW, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. I would have stopped dreaming years ago. I’d be working just enough to get by, but I wouldn’t be working as hard as I could. My family and I owe a great debt to YEPAW, as do all of the participants, instructors, volunteers, guests, staff, and board members who have ever been apart of YEPAW.
If this seems interesting to you at all, even the slightest, I strongly encourage you to look up YEPAW. Log on to their website, http://www.yepaw.org, and get more information. If you know a young person between the ages of 12-21 who you think would benefit greatly from this incredible and life changing ministry, sign them up for next year! You don’t have to live in Akron, Ohio to participate in YEPAW – folks from Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington D.C., and even Texas have come to YEPAW. They can spend the week in the dorms at the University of Akron. Trust me, it is worth it! Min. Barnes has gone on the record of saying many times, “Send me your young people, and I’ll send them back to you better!” Why? Because YEPAW challenges young people. There are no games and tricks or tactics of deceit. YEPAW goes out of its way to prove, not only that it cares about all young people and it wants to celebrate them and save their lives, but also that they are not hopeless! Log on to the website, do a Google search of YEPAW, watch some videos on YouTube – make yourself aware of what it is! As time passes, YEPAW only gets bigger and better, and you and your young people need to be apart of it now! I guarantee you’ll be blessed! God bless you all, and I love you! BOOYIKA!