Alchemy after-school program wins national honor

By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Young men in Alchemy group play drums together at a workshop at Lawton Community Center in the May 13, 2011 file photo. Founder G. Kwame Scruggs vowed to work with the boys through high school. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

Locally founded Alchemy Inc. is being recognized as one of America’s best after-school programs.

First lady Michelle Obama will honor the program — started by Copley Township resident G. Kwame Scruggs — as a National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award winner during a White House ceremony Monday.

Alchemy Inc. is a nonprofit group that works with urban adolescent boys using mentors, storytelling, mythology and African drumming to help those youth function successfully as members of family, school and community.

“I feel very blessed and very humbled,” said Scruggs, 54, who is traveling to Washington, D.C., with an Alchemy contingent for the award presentation. “It is the nation’s highest honor. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Twelve organizations this year received the national award, which comes with a $10,000 grant. There were 50 finalists selected from 371 applications. Alchemy was the only Ohio program to win the award. The group was a finalist last year.

In a news release, Alchemy said it was chosen for the award “for its effectiveness in development learning and life skills in young people by engaging them in the arts of humanities.”

The program has worked with about 1,200 boys since it started in 2004. This year, there are 120 youth involved in programs from schools in Akron, Copley Township and Cleveland.

Twenty-six young men who started in the program’s first year are now in college. Scruggs said he hopes graduates will work with local Alchemy boys and similar programs in New York City and Chicago.

Officials at the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program said the award winners “will be recognized by Mrs. Obama for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to generate a wide range of outcomes, including increases in academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment, as well as improvements in literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.”

Accepting the award with Scruggs will be 11-year-olds Dashawn Lamar Felton and Darren Townsend, both sixth-graders at Crouse Community Learning Center.

“It’s going to be nice,” Dashawn said.

Dashawn said he hopes to be in theater or one day play in the NFL, and he believes Alchemy has taught him “to be patient — to achieve my goals.”

Scruggs, who has a doctrine from the Pacifica Graduate Institute, said he hopes the award will give the program access to funding from national foundations to expand its work.

The organization has been the recipient of funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Akron Community Foundation and other organizations.

The ceremony will stream live at www.whitehouse.gov/live at 2:30 p.m. Monday.

A documentary film on Alchemy titled Finding The Gold Within is being produced by independent filmmaker Karina Epperlin. For more information on the film, go to http://www.karinafilms.us/index.html . For more on Alchemy, go to www.alchemyinc.net .

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com.


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