This August, over 200 young people and their families gathered at LAYC/MMYC’s Prince George’s County Riverdale site for a Back to School Backpacks and Haircuts event. The event, a collaboration among LAYC/MMYC, MIGO Productions (a nightlife company), and DC Barber Expo, along with the support of other community partners, aimed to get young people excited about going back to school and to help them feel prepared and supported. During the event, youth received backpacks and haircuts donated in-kind, and had access to community resources. This is the second time LAYC has hosted the event, which is the product of relationships forged decades ago, and the commitment of our alumni to continue paying it forward long after they leave LAYC programs.
“I remember being a kid just dreading going back to school,” admits Alex Arevalo of MIGO Productions. As a young person, Alex visited the Teen Center at our DC site to hang out with friends. Since that time, Alex has built a fulfilling career in the field of youth development and has a family of his own.
For Alex, this Back to School event carries a deep, personal meaning. He sees the event as a way to continue the legacy of friend and founder of MIGO Productions Walter Chavez, also known by his stage name, DJ Menace.
In the early 2000s, as reggaeton grew in popularity in the contiguous US, Chavez worked to create a platform for the new sound in DC area clubs and through the underground mixtape scene. In the summer of 2002, he founded MIGO Productions, a nightlife marketing and production company.
As Chavez became more prominent in the music scene and helped other musicians produce and market their work, he also spent time working at LAYC training young people on DJ equipment and techniques. Chavez’s efforts were tragically cut short on Christmas Eve 2003 in a fatal car accident. After his passing, members of MIGO Productions sought to continue his legacy of bringing music to the community, while creating opportunities to give back.
In the early 2000s, Alex had been serving as a gang outreach worker at LAYC. Through LAYC’s Boys Leadership Program, he partnered with schools in the DC area to identify young people who showed warning signs of potentially becoming involved in gangs. Alex intervened and helped young people think through options, find employment opportunities, and learn about positive activities they could join.
Alex has interacted with many young people during his career. One of those young people was Herson Bautista.
“One text message (from Alex) would mean more than you know.” – Herson
“I was a little troublemaker,” Herson jokingly says. At that pivotal moment in his life, however, he began to form mentor-mentee bonds with outreach workers like Alex, who invited him to different events and engaged him to keep him on a positive track. Herson explains that he found Alex to be more relatable than the counselors at his school, because he had a better understanding of the environment in which he was growing up.
“I felt like I was cared for, I felt like, you know, someone was looking out for me even if it was something small,” says Herson. “One text message would mean more than you know.”
On the day LAYC sat down with him to talk about his experience, Herson was giving haircuts to bright-eyed young people at the event. Today, Herson goes by the moniker “Herson the Barber”. He has built a successful career cutting hair, and has even organized a professional network of hair professionals throughout the DC area.
For several years, Herson has been coordinating the DC Barber Expo, an annual event where barbers and stylists from the DMV area can network, learn new techniques, and compete in skill-based competitions. For the Back to School event, Herson assembled a team of a dozen hair professionals to give haircuts to 50 young people of all ages.
As barbers cut hair inside of the pop-up barbershop, youth and their families ate food together and selected backpacks and free books in the main hall. Families also had the opportunity to chat with staff from community organizations such as La Clinica del Pueblo, Mary’s Center, and The Latino Student Fund. In a classroom down the hall, LAYC/MMYC staff conducted workshops for parents focused on nutrition and parent advocacy.
Alex and Herson hoped the event gave young people and their families something to be excited about as they transitioned to the new academic year.
A young person may face a variety of barriers to making a smooth transition from the summer to the school year. A challenge many families face is the financial burden of shopping to prepare for the new school year. According to the National Retail Federation, families with students in grades K-12 can expect to spend an average of $696 per household. In communities like Prince George’s County where, last year, 60% of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, the cost to start the new school year can be particularly burdensome. LAYC staff work to reduce the number of stressors for young people and their families at the start of the school year, so that youth are free to focus on their academic success and their social-emotional development.
Herson says that “I (feel) like these programs helped steer me in the right direction where I had something to do. I had a purpose, even if it was a weekly meeting or a weekly class or weekly event or bi-weekly or monthly you know it didn’t matter, it was something to look forward to. I feel that LAYC and MMYC as well, all the different organizations involved, their purpose is to build future leaders to continue this giving back process.”