The arts give Atlantic City kids a positive focus this summer

 BreakingAC - Ethical Reporting - Reporter
Photos by Francisco Viera

“I got it!” 12-year-old Yanelys Blanco exclaimed, as the skateboarder jumped the obstacle Wednesday.
She then showed the photo she captured to 14-year-old Jocelynn Sanchez-Rodriguez.
The two girls are Atlantic City Police Explorers. But this day they are among a group of fledgling photographers in a program sponsored by the Atlantic County Coalition for a Safe Community.
At the Sovereign Avenue skatepark — known as Back Sov — the kids were able to capture action shots of the skaters who started their day earlier than usual to help the kids’ projects.

 BreakingAC - Ethical Reporting - Reporter
Kids capture Benjamin Coons in action

Before winding up at the park, the group visited some of the murals around the city that are part of the Atlantic City Arts Foundation’s 48 Blocks.
Across from Sovereign Avenue School, the kids took pieces of chalk to the interactive mural that asks viewers to fill in the blank after “Before I die…”
That hits especially deep for a town that has seen three teens die in gun violence this year, two charged with murder and several others wounded by bullets.
“This is something positive for them,” said photography mentor Nastassia Davis, who grew up in Atlantic City and is now giving back to the youth.
She calls her students “Light Shooters,” because they shoot with cameras rather than being part of the ongoing violence.

 BreakingAC - Ethical Reporting - Reporter
After filling out their goals…
 BreakingAC - Ethical Reporting - Reporter
the kids left their own positive messages.

Griselda Zuniga, 12, has much to accomplish in her life: help the homeless, take care of my mom and spread positivity, she said of the three lines she filled out on the mural.
As the kids filled in the blanks, another group came by in yellow vests.
These four boys and three girls are part of a new diversionary program that employs at-risk youth, giving them an alternative to the streets.
“The kids are great,” said Zach Katzen, who was one of the men behind the skatepark but works with the kids through the Arts Foundation. “I can’t wait to work on more programs. Everything we give them they are anxious to do. There’s a lot more potential than we originally anticipated.”
This group works four days a week, and have been doing things like power washing to prepare the area before the artists work on their murals.
“It gives them a sense of ownership,” Katzen said.
Loryn Simonsen, communications manager for Atlantic City Arts Foundation, said it makes them a part of the art beautifying their city.
“They can say, ‘Hey, I helped make that happen,’” she said.

BackSov photo gallery
Shawn Mills and Genesis Hart talk with the kids.
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“Miss Nastassia, are we allowed to be part of this next year?” Jocelynn asked.
She wants to be a lawyer when she grows up, she explained.
“You want to be a lawyer, too?” 11-year-old Yailene Blanco asked her excitedly.
But she’s enjoyed the photography program and “it’s nice knowing a lot of skills.”
“I think it’s spectacular,” said Shawn Mills, who regularly comes to the skatepark.
His pink sneaks captured the kids’ attention — and their cameras’ focus for a bit.
Mills said he would like to see the city or a business like Hard Rock donate things like pads to the park that would make it more kid-friendly, so they can also participate.
“This is one of my great escapes,” he said of park.
“I’ve been skating for 20 years,” said Benjamin Coons, the subject of the jump Yanelys happily captured. “The best relationships in my life have come from skateboarding.”

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