For six weeks every summer, 50 D.C. teens are employed as dancers through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) in JOMDC’s summer Step Ahead program. Dancers attend dance classes in addition to art, college prep, money management, nutrition, and team-building classes. We interviewed high school senior Astra Thompson, now in her fourth year as a Step Ahead dancer. Astra was failing school her sophomore year, and is now a rising star in the D.C. community as a poet, performer, and voice for change. From failing to being accepted into 11 colleges, we sat down with Astra to talk about dance, poetry, and making a difference.
WHAT IS YOUR PASSION?
My passions include dancing, poetry, and being a leader in my community to influence those around me.
WHY DO YOU DANCE?
I dance because dance is my escape from being categorized; dance helps me freely separate myself from reality.
WHAT DOES DANCE DO FOR YOU THAT WRITING DOES NOT?
Dance allows my words to come out through motion.
HOW CAN YOU USE DANCE AND WRITING TO MAKE CHANGE?
I can use dance and writing to change the world by being a person someone admires as a person and as an artist. I can add dimensions to performances using different art forms to make truly unique and memorable art.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
My process for writing is brainstorming my ideas out on paper and asking myself what is the goal or message that I am trying to convey.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU GET WRITER’S BLOCK?
Listen to music!
WHAT DEFINES YOU AS AN ARTIST?
My personality is larger than life; my appearance makes people question me as a person and as an artist.
WHO DO YOU LOOK UP TO?
Poets Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, Artist India Arie and J cole.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I get my inspiration through seeing the struggles my mom had to deal with when trying to raise me.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN SOUTHEAST DC?
Growing up in Southeast DC has shaped me into who I am today, and pushed me even harder to uplift humanity and to achieve sister and brotherhood in its most noblest form.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF POETRY?
I will use my poetry skills for outreach in motivational speaking for underprivileged youth.
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO COMMUNICATE THROUGH YOUR ART?
Through my poetry I want people to understand that even though I am black, that I, too, can and will become someone.
WHY NOT PURSUE AN ART DEGREE OR PURSUE THE ARTS?
I love poetry and art as a whole, but it’s not what I think will get me to a strong place financially.
WHICH CREATIVE MEDIUM WOULD YOU LIKE TO PURSUE?
I would like to organize different outreach groups to help students who have been marginalized like me, helping with tasks such as how to fill out a college application and how to apply job readiness skills.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED ABOUT HOW TO BE MORE CREATIVE?
Before my mom died, she used to always tell me, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
WHEN DID YOU START WRITING?
I started writing when my mom died—writing has helped me so much. A verse to an Emilie Sande song that my teacher would always tell me is, “You got the words to change the nation, but you’re biting your tongue.”
TALK ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM DOING POORLY IN SCHOOL TO DOING WELL?
When I was younger, my brothers were taken by Child Protective Services. My mother’s bad habits were often prioritized before raising her children. I spent a lot of my childhood moving in and out of random shelters, sometimes not knowing if tomorrow’s meal was promised. Sometimes I would hold my mom when she was trying to fall asleep, hoping that I could wipe away every tear. I was her backbone. I never aspired to be a mom, but sometimes I felt as though I was more of a mother to my mother than she was to me. In ninth grade my GPA was 1.7, which was the year my mom died. When my mom died, I knew I had to get my life together. In 10th grade I had a 2.4, in 11th grade a 3.0, and now, in 12th grade , a 3.18, and an unweighted GPA of a 4.0.
DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD RECEIVE RECOGNITION FOR YOUR ART? DID YOU EVER WANT ANY?
I have received more than 20 awards; one of which was from the Mayor!
WHEN CAN WE SEE YOU ON STAGE AGAIN?
I will be performing on Thursday, June 11, at 5:00 PM, for my senior high school awards.
WHICH COLLEGE DID YOU CHOOSE? (WE HEARD YOU HAD TO CHOOSE FROM 11 COLLEGE ACCEPTANCE LETTERS!)
I will be attending Norfolk State University as a Business Management and Performance Theater major!