Monday through Friday, students from Newark’s KIPP BOLD & THRIVE Academy walk across the street to the Hayes Park Community Center. At the space, which is free for all residents seven and up, the girls do everything together, from homework to yoga and even dance in a competitive stepping team.
The team took home second place at an interstate competition in May, and while the accolades and praise are nice, Hayes Park Community Center director and assistant step coach Cerenthia McElroy says her main goal is teaching the girls how to love each other.
“I see a lot of young girls are going the wrong way and we need to get them back to where they need to be,” said McElroy. “They need to learn how it’s OK to be yourself, to grow, and you are beautiful and learn how to be able to achieve a lot of things that you can’t do, so they need that support”
In the center’s new dance studio there’s a big mural of a ballerina practicing, looking up at a professional on stage. When asked what she thinks of the image, nine-year-old Latoya Drayton said it makes her “believe in [herself].”
“Because when I look at her, she’s looking at someone who is like brave and kind and confident and when she thinks of that, that’s what I think,” said Drayton.