After-School Graffiti Workshop Changes Youth Perspective

An arts based program provides hope for urban students.

Photos and video by Kenzie Petty

Kristopher Rollins and Emily Lang created Movement 515 as a branch of the RunDSM organization. Their goal is to shift young people’s negative perspectives about the classroom. It encourages students to become part of the bigger conversation regarding the power they should have over their learning.

“We created Movement 515 for a number of reasons that came out of public school initiatives that stereotyped students of color as illiterate, apathetic, and disinterested in the learning,” says Rollins. “We felt quite the opposite of these stigmas and wanted to try to push the system in a direction to get others making such claims, as well as the youth themselves, to see their power and abilities.”

Since its creation, Movement 515 has developed various programs that meet throughout the Des Moines area, including graffiti art, spoken word poetry, and breakdancing. These courses meet twice a week during their respective seasons. During the classes, students and teachers learn and grow together.

“As a white, straight, male, the youth have turned me into learner more times than I can count,” Rollins says. “Just because something worked for me in school doesn’t mean it’s going to work for the population I’m trying to inspire and reach. I’ve allowed their personal experiences and perspectives to further shape my own.”

These courses are beneficial to students both in and out of the classroom. According to ArtsEdSearch, students that enroll in arts-based programs, especially those in lower-income families, demonstrate higher efficiency in leadership abilities and social skills.

Movement 515 has worked tirelessly to shift the lives of kids, in order to help them succeed. They attempt to break stereotypes by integrating the power of the arts, and bring mutual respect and education between both instructors and students.

“I’ve seen Movement 515 provide young people hope, joy, community, and family. I’ve seen young people empowered to become local leaders and activists, regardless of their age,” Rollins says. “I’ve seen Movement 515 provide young people confidence, a hope for the future, self-actualization, and authentic representation.”

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