Art of healing: Jacksonville teens find release at local nonprofit

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The holidays are a time for family, but many Jacksonville youth don’t get that gift. A local nonprofit for the arts is changing the rhythm.

Aden Speight is a student at The Performers Academy. Action news Jax caught up with him one afternoon after school. He attends Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and expands on his talents at TPA.


He played a song he composed himself. “Unconditional love is love from above,” he sang.

“It’s like a love song, but without a lover,” he told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant. The song was written during a time Speight felt alone as he was home-schooled during the pandemic.

“Whenever the pandemic hit — I was really talking to nobody,” he said. “I was alone for most part of the day. So it wasn’t healthy.”

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The song was at the time written with a sad undertone. But TPA helped him turn the grief to motivation.

“During the time I was writing the lyrics — I was very depressed. I’m not depressed now.”

Across the hall, Zuri Randolph was reading a poem. “Love is a strong word with the truth hold,” the poem read. TPA gave her the strength to put her feelings on paper and encouraged her to get into the arts from theater to singing.

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“I get to spend time with people my own age and have a camaraderie and I have family with my teachers.”

The academy gives students like Randolph and Speight the opportunity to become a family when many of them didn’t have a family at home.

The 14-year-old program continues to grow and now includes a roster of about 20 kids that come after school to its Beach Boulevard location for free.

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“Teens in particular don’t have a support, or sometimes an outlet. This allows them to do that,” Kathryn McAvoy, the president of TPA, said. “They work together to support each other. And it’s a healing process.”

McAvoy said she hopes to create a welcoming environment for kids who may not otherwise have an opportunity to share an art especially as many art programs get cut by public schools nationwide. Depression among teens has also reached an all-time high and was heightened by the pandemic.

On the third Saturday of the month, TPA hosts a “Truth and Proof” open mic night. It’s free and open to the public to watch young talent take the stage. You can learn more at the academy’s website.