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illuminate 2016As DMH Commissioner Joan Mikula proclaimed that evening, this year’s Express Yourself (EXYO) event was magical! True to the theme of “Illuminate” the entire Citi Performing Arts Center was shining as the thanks to the florescent glow sticks each audience member received. There was no shortage of energy from the audience to the young performers and EXYO leaders one would never know this was the 22nd year of the performance which occurs during May – National Mental Health Awareness Month.

Once the lights dimmed and Commissioner Mikula and Citi Performing Center President and CEO Josiah A. Spaulding took to the stage, the tone for the evening was set. Their historical opening reflections quickly transitioned into the pair being part of the show. The two were whisked away by a group of EXYO kids who donned Mikula and Spaulding with regal costumes fitting for the live Red Carpet, an elevated woman on center stage whose gorgeous red ball gown flowed into the actual red carpet on the stage, and additional kid performers played the role of red carpet escorts and paparazzi.

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But the true highlight of the evening was the EXYO kids. In a brief video, a metaphoric light was beamed upon the youthful participants and the audience as the youth in the show described why EXYO means so much to them. Many of them talked about discovering their voice, finding a place to fit in, learning something new, making new friends, and not being judged – healthy lessons that start with EXYO but will easily transcend into other areas of life.

Once the video concluded the young performers emerged onto the stage, and they were just as diverse in their talents as they were in age and background. They did it all – acting, singing, dancing, stepping, drumming, hoola-hooping and amazing set and prop design. In addition to the great introduction, the crowd was amazed by performance pieces featuring the young people and special guest artists like Samantha Johnson, America’s Got Talent finalist, STOMP, Jared Mason from Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet, Ten31 Productions, and West African Drumming. One would think that the special guests would intimidate or outshine the youthful performers, but they all commanded the stage.

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Throughout the year, EXYO prepares the young performers for this one evening to showcase what they’ve learned by participating in their art immersion programs. EXYO brings together over 150 youth from various DMH treatment programs and underserved youth from 80 Greater Boston communities and North Shore community collaborators. Each year a new theme is chosen for the celebration and to feature the young performer’s talents. This free celebration is a great opportunity to raise awareness of treatment and recovery and eradicate the stigma associated with living with a mental health diagnosis. To learn more about the program or to attend next year’s show please visit www.exyo.org.

 

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