Rolling Out

Crafting change through art and advocacy with Mario Reyes

Exploring the intersection of art, mentorship, and community empowerment in underserved areas.

In the latest episode of “Equity in Focus,” host Kevin Hooks sits down with Mario Reyes, a veteran advocate for mental health, fatherhood, and artistic expression within underserved communities. A Bronx native and Air Force veteran, Reyes brings a rich perspective on how art and personal narrative shape community building and individual empowerment.

Reyes introduces himself as a multifaceted individual, a Bronx veteran, an artist, a father, and a community activist. His journey from the military to the arts and activism underscores his commitment to using creative expression as a tool for social change. Reyes’s nonprofit, Manifest Destiny, focuses on bringing art therapy programs to the youth of the Atlanta metro area, underscoring the power of art in young lives.

Reyes elaborates on “art therapy,” emphasizing its significant cognitive and emotional benefits for children. His approach involves engaging children in identity narrative workshops, where they explore and articulate their self-perceptions through creative expression. This process not only boosts their self-esteem but also enhances their academic and social skills.

Crafting identity through expression

At the core of Reyes’s workshops is the concept of “identity narratives”—the stories individuals tell themselves about who they are. He works to ensure that children author their narratives, promoting a sense of autonomy and self-awareness. Through guided exercises, children craft poems that celebrate their identities, reinforcing their confidence and resilience against external pressures.

Reyes shares compelling examples of how these workshops have positively impacted young participants. He recounts the story of an eight-year-old girl whose profound insight into the concept of “perfection” revealed a mature understanding of self-acceptance. Such anecdotes illustrate the profound impact of Reyes’s work on helping youth navigate their self-identity and emotional challenges.

Challenging and changing narratives

The conversation shifts to the societal narratives about fatherhood, particularly within the African American community. Reyes is passionate about dispelling myths of absent black fathers by actively engaging in his children’s lives and supporting other men in doing the same. His work not only challenges these stereotypes but also promotes a model of active and engaged fatherhood.

Reyes discusses his nonprofit, Manifest Destiny, which not only focuses on youth but also extends its reach to parents, particularly fathers. Through initiatives like the “Kingdom Sun” workshops, he fosters deeper connections between fathers and sons, enhancing communication and understanding within families. Reyes offers advice to young people, encouraging them to own their narratives and recognize their intrinsic value. He emphasizes the importance of self-reliance and self-definition, urging the youth to be agents of change in their own lives and in their communities.

Reyes’s interview with Hooks provides a powerful look at how art and advocacy can intersect to create change. His dedication to empowering the youth and redefining fatherhood paints a hopeful picture of the potential for personal and community growth through creative and thoughtful engagement. Reyes wraps up the discussion by emphasizing the ongoing need for dialogue and action within communities to foster equity and empowerment. His life’s work serves as a call to action for others to join in the movement toward a more inclusive and supportive society.

AI assisted in summarizing this episode of Equity in Focus.
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