LOS ANGELES — Jennifer Newton fell in love with dance at the age of 9. As a young woman from an “at-risk background,” who found herself changing schools nine times during her adolescent years, dance became her lifeline.
During her teens, she found a home at Los Angeles High School, where she expanded her dance repertoire. At 22, she was signed to Universal Records and started to pursue her singing career. Her experiences with music and dance made Jennifer realize that her true passion was in teaching and inspiring youth to embrace their full potential as individuals and artists.
In 2013, she decided to do just that, founding the Outkast Academy to help ignite purpose in inner-city youth through performing arts, mentoring and tutoring.
“Our goal is to empower youth to reach their highest potential as accountable, passionate and innovative pioneers of their generation,” Newton said. “We emerged out of a pursuit to guide and mentor youth of inner-city communities …and we know that impactful change occurs when action is taken to help those in need, which is why we made it our mission to reach the youth of underserved communities.”
Newton said that one thing that makes the organization uniquely situated to serve this particular population is that it is three programs in one. In fact, the organization takes a holistic approach to working with these youth, offering dance to provide a much-needed creative and physical outlet, mentoring to build relationships with individual students, counseling that helps guide them through life’s challenges and academic coaches to assist each student in achieving their educational goals.
In addition, the Outkast youth summer internship program gives high school seniors the opportunity to apply for an internship with the organization and successful participants receive job placement as an instructor.
“Outkast provides an opportunity for all our students’ talent to shine,” Newton said. “We don’t only highlight the most talented dancers, but we instill in our students a work ethic and belief that it is not talent alone that makes you great but how hard you are willing to work.”
The organization also works very hard to create a sense of community with its youth and their families. In fact, in a lot of ways, the organization has become an invaluable source of support to its students.
“We had a student who recently became homeless, his mother and two other siblings were living out of their car,” Newton said. “However, he still came to our program six days a week and continued to work hard in school because of the values he learned through our program.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids drop out of high school all together when hardships hit but because he had a home, even when he was homeless, it pushed him to continue his education and reach for his dreams.”
In order to help the family get back on their feet, the organization not only raised money for them, but provided meals, helped the family secure housing, and helped his mother and oldest sibling secure full-time jobs and government assistance.
Newton hopes that by providing youth with resources that embrace the whole person that their students can reach their full potential in life and receive the tools they need to uplift their community.
“It is our hope that our youth do not allow society’s expectations to mold them, but that they take ownership of who they truly are and take charge of their life,” Newton said. “We believe that if they allow their trails to turn into stepping stones of success that they will also lift others who are struggling along the way.”
Organization: The Outkast Academy
Leader: Jennifer Newton
Social Media: Instagram: @theoutkastacademy Facebook: The Outkast Academy Youtube: theoutkastacademy
By Angela N. Parker