Photographer Elliot Ruiz captured images from the game. Ruiz is participating in BenitoLink's Junior Journalism Project, which is partially funded by a grant from United Way of San Benito County.
Over 60 community members, parents, and youth gathered on Feb. 26 at Mars Hill Coffeehouse in downtown Hollister for a Hip-Hop Open Mic. Hosted by the Youth Alliance (YA) the event featured beatboxing, spoken word, dancing, art, and freestyle.
"Youth Alliance believes in the importance of highlighting youth voice and making sure our youth are being included in the decision-making process of issues pertaining to them. YA’s Hip Hop Open Mic was an effort to highlight youth voice and give youth a platform to share their experiences, talents, and skills to the community. Hollister, being a small community, is often times known among youth as town that doesn’t have many activities for our youth to get involved with," said YA Development & Community Engagement Specialist Eduardo Navarro. "YA is committed to providing more youth-friendly events where youth and adults can come together as a community."
The event kicked off with a series of performances that included dance and freestyle rap acts.
YA staff member Jeanette Neal, then went up to explain the youth portraits that were on display. The self-portraits showcased the response of several young adults to a series of presentations on the school to prison pipeline.
"On one side of the portraits, you see the artist’s self-interpretation. The other side highlights values the artists believe will help other youth combat their risk for incarceration and other negative paths. The overall collection expresses the groups’ belief in the importance of keeping away from bad influences," Navarro explained.
He said one youth chose to paint about family with a piece titled, “My family is important; I believe losing family would be horrible" and another showcasing a piece about education titled, “Focus on education, that’s what we need to do for a better life.”
Following the youth portraits, the second half of the performances continued and the event was later closed by Navarro.
He addressed the need of empowering youth as our community’s leaders. "Involving our local youth in prosocial activities that lead to educational and career-oriented pathways is what our youth need to be successful and not go down a path of constant stigmatization," he said.
Hip Hop open Mic is part of YA's Youth Listening Campaign. The campaign focuses on hosting community events where the youth is made part of the conversation along with parents and community stakeholders ensuring that the decisions involving them are "not being made for them but rather with them." Topics include but are not limited to school climate, school safety, the school-to-prison pipeline, and education.
"What made this Open Mic event special was that it was a primarily youth-lead event where youth were both the performers and the organizers. With supporting staff like Jeanette Neal, and Jason Franks, youth were able to come together and put on a wonderful event that allowed their voices to be expressed through rap, freestyle, poetry, breakdancing, and short speeches," Navarro said. "Nayeli Ramirez, youth volunteer, and Javier Renteria, former Youth Alliance youth and now a Youth Organizer, were key in bringing in youth from both Hollister and Gilroy to convene at Mars Hill for support."
He added, "Youth Alliance would like to thank Mars Hill Coffeehouse for hosting Youth Alliance. Special thanks to Animation Dance Company’s dancers Joe and Nick Rasmussen, Bethany Wheeler, Noah Gutierrez and all of our performers; Young Javie, J Phlow, Mr. Chavez, Oasis, Static, and Andrew Lazoya."
Youth Alliance plans to continue to host more Open Mic events following the success of the Hip-Hop Open Mic Night. They intend to continue to highlight youth voice and give youth a platform to express what they feel, think, and sense. They would also like to host a town hall forum where youth can express their voice in a setting involving school administrators, community stakeholders, parents, and fellow youth.
For more information about Youth Alliance or on how to get involved, please contact Eduardo Navarro, [email protected] or 831.636.2853.
Elliot Ruiz, the photographer for this story, is a student at San Benito High School. He is part of BenitoLink's Junior Journalism Project which is partially funded by the United Way of San Benito County.