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Professor Earns Grants to Support Arts, Mentee

By Brian Hiro

Merryl Goldberg knows a good leader when she sees one. When she met Dairrick Khalil Hodges early last year through their roles in the San Diego Creative Youth Development Network, she could tell immediately that he was something special. 

“At the state level, there’s a lot of attention to supporting emerging leaders of color,” said Goldberg, a longtime music professor at Cal State San Marcos. “I’m his mentor, but really we’re partners. I learn as much from him as he might learn from me.” 

Hodges is a jack of all trades as an artist – he has been a theater performer, a poet, a musician and a playwright – and two years ago he founded the SOULcial Workers, a theater arts nonprofit dedicated to the social education and emotional development of youth in vulnerable populations.

To support the work that Hodges does with the SOULcial Workers, ART=OPPORTUNITY – the research-based arts education program started by Goldberg in 2016 – applied for and recently received a $16,200 grant from the California Arts Council, a state agency whose mission is to advance California through the arts and creativity. The CAC funding secured by Goldberg will help Hodges’ organization put on Camp AART (Attitudes, Awareness and Relationship Training), an arts education program that focuses on suicide prevention through creative youth development.

The CAC grant was one of a pair awarded to Goldberg, who also received $45,000 to conduct two studies to expand on the research component of the ART=OPPORTUNITY public awareness project. The pair of grants are among more than 1,300 totaling almost $25 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year as the CAC makes its largest investment in arts and culture in nearly two decades. 

Camp AART will take place over eight weeks starting in late January 2020 at the ARTS (A Reason To Survive) Center in National City. It will culminate that April in the third annual Arts Amplifying Youth (AAY!) summit, a one-day event led by youth for youth that provides a platform for creative expression around the issues of diversity, equality, inclusion and change. Hodges served as a mentor and performer during the inaugural summit in 2018 before directing it this year.

Hodges said he draws his passion for youth and the arts from his own lived experiences.

"I grew up in a world where I was robbed of voice, repeatedly thrown into situations where people made decisions about my life without any consideration for how I was being impacted," said Hodges, a former foster youth. "I have faced countless challenges in my life, and I have experienced more than my share of devastation. The arts helped me navigate those experiences; they became the tool with which I paved my own way in this world. I am committed to helping others do the same."

Goldberg said she was motivated to boost Hodges’ program after watching him do it previously without funding.

“Gratefully, Merryl and her team have seen value in the work we’ve produced and the youth we’re supporting in that space,” Hodges said. “Now we have the ability to do it again and connect some of the work we’re doing with suicide prevention and mental health to the work that the AAY! cast is doing around safety and arts education and youth leadership. I think it’s a beautiful marriage and I’m excited to have the opportunity.”

Said Goldberg: “He’s been through the wringer, and he paves the way for kids who were in his life situation or kids who have so much potential and haven’t had a whole lot of chances. Kids connect with him in such a magnificent and genuine way.”

Things like Camp AART and the AAY! summit are just what Goldberg had in mind when she procured $200,000 from the Stuart Foundation to fund ART=OPPORTUNITY three years ago.

“I think the bottom line is engagement of youth voice in shaping the future,” she said. “It’s really important that they have that opportunity to thrive. That’s why these grants, and what we’re doing in general, are so important to me.

“Other people within my age range are thinking about retirement. Not me. This is just too exciting. I love what I’m doing. I feel like I’m 15.”

Media Contact

Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist

bhiro@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7306