BLADENSBURG – Carlyncia Peck believes the arts can be transformative and empowering.
“We’re looking to reinforce the positive and cause people to realize their potential,” Peck said. “We want to cultivate self-awareness in the people that we work with, cultural appreciation for diversity and bringing people together. If we understand one another, and work with one another and serve with one another, we become increased in our sense of neighborhood and community.”
Peck founded the Artistic Empowerment Centers when her students at ViaJ Entertainment Services faced challenges securing work. The nonprofit enabled her students to perform in community centers such as nursing homes and children’s hospitals.
“That was where Artistic Empowerment Centers was born,” Peck said. “We were empowering our students at the time to give back to the community, but in a way that they could put themselves before people and give back while learning how to be a professional on stage.”
Peck has spent about 30 years in the performing arts industry as an actress, singer, model, instructor, and writer. She has performed roles in several movies and television and streaming shows, including “Step Up” and “House of Cards.”
What started as a small project has transformed into a vibrant nonprofit.
“It has really grown and grown over the years into what it is now,” Peck said. “It helps so many more people.”
The organization uses performing arts, such as acting, music, singing, dance, visual arts, and creative writing, connecting with their community. Peck said through their programs such as theatrical therapy, and their summer camp, Artistic Empowerment Centers has helped thousands of people.
Through the theatrical therapy program, young people with behavioral problems explore their inner lives and how to communicate those through artwork.
“We use the art to bring about the understanding of who they are as individuals (and their) self-identity,” Peck said. “When you try to improve and empower them in that way, where they understand that what they bring to life is valuable, then there’s a different perspective and outlook, and there’s some rehabilitation. (Through that process) they’re transformed to understand they can be a positive force in the community.”
As one of the activities in the program, the instructors display a painting, and the participants write in their interpretations of it in their journals. Then, everyone discusses their reflections.
“Many times they are not only sharing what they see as a part of the artwork, but they’re also sharing and showing how their experiences relative to that painting,” Peck said. “They start to share about, ‘I have been sad before’ or ‘have felt like I have wanted to kill myself before,’ and this what this picture reminded me of.”
Through the therapeutic process, the participants rely on other creative means, such as writing a monologue or comped a song, to express their emotions.
“From that point, that person starts to see that their gifts and talents are being used to bring therapy to them,” Peck said.
Artistic Empowerment Centers also offers a summer camp for children ages 6 through 12. Beyond learning various character-building skills, financial stewardship and computer training, they also create their own artistic pieces.
“When people come to a realization (they can pursue the arts in their futures), it really changes the trajectory of where they were headed, so for me every time that happens, it’s a big moment,” Peck said.
Through the nonprofit’s partnership with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, Peck can bring young and old individuals together to see live performances, meet professional artists and learn from each other.
“So many times people who go with us, they realize that they could have that kind that kind of path ahead of them,” Peck said.
Whenever she was noticing the programming make an impact on someone’s life, no matter their age or situation, Peck said she felt “fulfilled.”
“For instance, an eight-year-old child who’s never been shown their gift, and they don’t understand they’ve been acting out, that person coming to the realization that ‘wow, I have these gifts and talents that I can actually use for potentially for the positive,’ is just as important as an 86-year-old woman who thinks that she has nothing else to give to life. And then we bring her in to speak to a group of young people, and she becomes alive because she understands her value.”
Peck hopes their participants will use art to better the world around them.
“I ask people and encourage people all the time to become actively engaged because we have to be change and that is what we want to see,” Peck said.
“There’s so many people that tend to speak about certain issues, and that’s all they do. But, each of us has gifts and talents that can be used in the process of positive change.”
Ultimately, Peck said she is inspired by inspiring others.
“I am very passionate about empowering others to realize their potential, and their own self-awareness of not just who they are as people, but also the gifts and talents and skillsets, the abilities that they have that can be used for others,” Peck said. “I do believe that when you give back to others then you will be blessed yourself. There’s a fulfillment that comes with fulfilling purpose, and I do believe that my purpose is to empower others.”