Most of my experience in St. Louis has evolved around work and exposure to large network groups. I am originally from Illinois, so most of my education has been from that state. However, because of the short distance for transportation, I was able to commute to St. Louis for better opportunities like jobs, entertainment, and educational programs within the city.
At the age of 16, I got accepted into an apprenticeship for St. Louis Artworks. I worked with artist teachers creating unique artwork and helped put together an art sale that led to a passion for art in the community. Afterwards, I got a job working as a caricature artist for the St, Louis Zoo. This was an amazing opportunity as it developed my skills working with other artists and advertising on site.
My community work started when I became a community design apprentice for Creative Reaction Lab, which addresses dismantling racial, social, and oppressive systematic structures that prevent the success and growth of black and Latinx youth in local neighborhoods. I also worked as a project coordinator for a professional development leadership fellowship for small nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and local ethnic entrepreneurs.
In high school, I was selected to be a part of a group of individuals who were mentored by undergraduate students at Washington University in St. Louis for two semesters. This experience had a huge impact on my growth as a youth. This gave me a sense of confidence that I needed to pursue higher education. They helped me plan out my workloads, toured the university, and allowed for me to speak on a panel discussion about coming from an underserved community.
I am currently working as a mentor and teaching instructor for the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation. My goal is for the students to be able to express personal trauma and relevant social topics through art. Through activities, exercises, and projects, we are working towards developing a curriculum to support our youth for implementation in more community centers. I work with youth of all ages ranging from k-12th grade. These students inspire and motivate me to stay committed and to keep them encouraged, while also lending advice on how to better understand the world from a young professional viewpoint.
Also, I am working with Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts on a project to offer free informational discussions on legal and business basics regarding copyrights and contractual agreements for artworks of any genre. I find myself ingrained within the arts community because it gives me the chance to become more unconsciously open to life. Giving someone else a platform to express themselves is allowing for them to be more comfortable with you and not feel judged. Speaking out about certain topics can be challenging at times. But with a fun, creative way of visually unpacking that information, we can allow others to grow and see how different forms of coping can be beneficial.
In the future I expect to open a community program that follows the same format as the one I’m currently working on. It should be more refined and have a structured organizational capacity to support core values and principles that help instill pride back into our neighborhoods. I would love to have a family with kids and two dogs. As for now, I have a dream to help reimagine a few well-deserved communities, and through the work that I am currently doing, I believe that I am well on my way.
Andra Lang Jr. is currently working on his Bachelor’s Degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“Homegrown Black Males” is a partnership between HomeGrown STL at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and The St. Louis American, edited by Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor and associate dean at the Brown School, and Chris King, managing editor of The American, in memory of Michael Brown.