The nonprofit YourPassion1st hosted a show on Nov. 13 at the Kehrein Center for the Arts. | AustinTalks

Adults and youth from the West Side and beyond gathered on Nov. 13 at the Kehrein Center for the Arts to share their talents and learn how to put their passions first.

The in-person and virtual workforce readiness and music festival featured live music, a pitch competition, a mental health panel, vendors, workshops and more.

YourPassion1st (YP1), “a coaching and mentorship platform focused on helping under-resourced young adults overcome adversity and earn money in the area of their passion,” hosted the event.

“We don’t see enough of our young adults really being offered that safe space to be able to create freely. We see a lot of traditional ways of educating and traditional structures and institutionalized ways of thinking,” said Chris Thomas, founder and chairman of YP1.

“I feel like it’s an opportunity now amidst this civil rights movement and this pandemic to really shed some light on how we educate young adults a little bit differently.”

The event kicked off with live music and included a performance of YP1’s theme song by conscious performing artist Shanna Williams aka Queen Prophecy. Williams, a mental wellness consultant for YP1, also led a mental health panel discussion in partnership with BUILD Chicago.

“I brought that together based on the fact that I recently just lost a nephew to suicide … what I’m realizing is that after that people don’t know a lot about mental health. They don’t know the signs, they don’t know how serious it could be,” he said.

Williams spoke about how under-resourced areas tend to have higher crime rates, which too often results in youth being exposed to traumatic events on a regular basis.

“Once a brain sees trauma, it’s hard for them to not live their life thinking in respect to trauma all the time and it kind of takes the power from them,” said Williams, who is also a therapist.

“It’s imperative that we start to address this because it’s our youth losing hope. A lot of our youth are saying, ‘I can’t see myself getting past 21.’ So I want to help them start to be able to expand and see that there’s more to life than what you are seeing, but you also have to be the change that you want to see.”

Young adults played a large role in organizing and executing the event, which took about eight months to plan.

“It’s not the first event, so hopefully everyone can come out to the next one because I want this to be an annual event,” said Brenda Dickerson, one of the young adult organizers.

Dickerson connected with YourPassion1st through a friend and said the program has helped her expand her art business.

“I used to be one dimensional, ‘Oh just art, I want to do art.’ But now it’s like I’m exploring different career fields … working on my business, making money and figuring out what I want to do with my life,” Dickerson said. “I do murals, I do custom paintings, I do custom shoes, paintings, shirts, everything.”

The performing arts center, which boasts 850 seats and offers full virtual streaming capabilities, considers itself to be an Austin community site for the arts.

It recently received a Neighborhood Access Programs grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) to install outdoor art on the outside of the building and expand programming in 2022.

“2019 was the launch of KCA, and I walked in there for an event and I was blown away. It’s such a beautiful space. And for us to have that on the West Side, it’s kind of like the West Side gem, the Austin gem,” said Vanessa Stokes, a board member of the performing arts center.

COVID “put a little damper on getting out marketing into the community on so many levels. But I just see that space as being a real community space, that’s what we’re setting it up to be. So the community can be a part of what happens in there and make it really a community theater kind of space.”

The center has already hosted several events including musical performances, symposiums on racial reconciliation and other art-focused events.

“Art and culture is a great way to highlight what’s happening in the community, get people energized and excited about new and upcoming events,” Stokes said.

“I think most human beings like music and art, you know? And it helps to get people gathered as a community.”