Often times a life event, individual, or circumstance can change our perception of the world around us. If you were to reflect back on your life, what areas would you say have left the most impact on the person you are today?

I remember being seven years old having a conversation with my grandmother about taking piano lessons. It was her recommendation that I enroll in private lessons, and today I am so grateful for her foresight to introduce me to an art form that would help me blossom from a timid young girl, to the woman I am today. Having a classical piano background allowed me to enroll into a performing arts high school, where I learned a lot about myself, became equipped with the tools I needed to complete college, and developed the foundation of my leadership qualities.

Last spring, the New York Post and additional media outlets praised the academic success of then Senior, Kwasi Enin from Long Island City, NY. Kwasi was accepted to all of the colleges that he applied to, including 8 ivy league schools. He attributes his success and development to the arts, explaining how music has taught him the importance of leadership, teamwork and creating his community’s culture and history. In his college application essay he shares… “My musical haven has shaped my character and without it, my life would not be half as wonderful as it is today.”

Unfortunately, there are many, too many, areas where arts programs that can stimulate students in this way are not accessible. Due to major budget cuts to arts programming, spending on arts in the state of New Jersey declined by 30% at the elementary level and by 44% at the high school level. Epitome of Soul, a non-profit arts organization for elementary and high school students, works to bring the arts back into schools. Our goal is to provide support and exposure to students in urban communities, helping them to gain access to arts programming through our core program areas of educational advocacy, mentorship and scholarship- and ultimately see students through to post-secondary education.

Like Kwasi and myself, there are many students whose lives have been changed by their affiliation with the arts. Epitome of Soul hopes to help students gain exposure, culturally develop, have life-changing experiences and give back to their communities through our programs. Will you join us in our efforts to place arts back into the schools?

For more information on how you can contribute to the advancement of Epitome of Soul’s initiatives, visit epitomeofsoul.org.

This post was originally published on Epitome of Soul's Medium page by the Executive Director, Nailah Butler.