When Jimmy Durbin retired as Mayor of Denham Springs, the pastor of his church, Luke 10:27, a Community of Faith, the Rev. Leslie Akin, decided to pick his brains for inspiration, so she asked him, “What is one problem in Denham Springs that if it was solved would significantly improve the city?”

He prayed about it and came back with his answer: racism. Akin prayed in turn and was inspired by the idea of a Young Artists Academy for children who could not afford lessons in art, choral and instrumental music, drama and more, not exclusively those from the black community, but certainly including them.

“It just came during my prayer time,” Akin said. “I waited for a decent hour and called Arthur Perkins and he said, ‘This is an answer to prayer,’ and told me that Gladier Dalton needed to be the director of the academy’s Gospel Choir.”

In order to recruit children from the surrounding neighborhood, organizers held two events at the L.M. Lockhart Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the site of a summer-long nutrition and activity program. They invited not only children from the program, but others in the surrounding community.

In pursuit of multiculturalism, the YAA Planning Team is itself a mixed group: chair Talisha Dalton, Perkins, the Rev. Akin, the Rev. Dalton, Eric Roberts, Sarah Scott, Alejandro Arguello, Jackie Reed and Deborah Robinson.

In addition to the free children’s lessons, the program offers classes for parents in cooking and finance. More than 40 children from grades K-12 and 20 of their parents have signed up for the Saturday classes.

The Academy began Sept. 12 with only the Gospel Choir class in session.

Between Dalton and accompanist and assistant director Michael Rheams, there is a wealth of experience in music ministry and choir direction. When Dalton lived in New Orleans, she not only directed choirs, she also sang with the Moses Hogan Chorale and the New Orleans Opera Chorus. Then, while living here for nine years, she was a member of Roberts United Methodist Church. She has now returned to New Orleans as assistant minister of Faith Temple Church of God, but has continued to volunteer with the Lockhart nutrition program and now with the Young Artists Academy.

Michael Rheams is well known in the community both as a basketball and track star at Walker High and Southeastern and for his music. A member of the Livingston Parish Children’s Choirs Chorale, he also was a music minister at several churches starting at the age of 13.

In just one class, they were able to teach the students a song, “To Our God,” with the chorus sung in three part harmony.

In addition to pitch, lyrics and rhythm, Dalton told the students, “You need to fill up with love. If you don’t move you, you won’t move the audience.”

Last Saturday, Sept. 19, in addition to the Gospel Choir, classes were also held in Dance, Cooking and Drums.

Students in the Dance class, both boys and girls, ranged in age from 7 to 15. They were instructed by Meg Walker, who has studied ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance, culminating at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in New York City and has performed with the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre, Hammond Ballet and Storytellers Dance Project of New Orleans. She has taught dance for nine years and is currently the Director of Dance at Leaps & Bounds.

Drum class was taught by Robert Reynolds, who has played the drums as far back as he can remember, having had two older brothers who were also drummers. He played with a band for the first time at age 9 and currently leads a band, Rosie & the Swinging Riveters from his position behind a drum set and also plays with the house band at the Old South Jamboree in Walker.

Students gathered around a snare drum and took turns as he adjusted their hold on the drum sticks and their rhythm before they moved to the sanctuary to experiment with the full drum set there and Reynolds demonstrated the sound they would be able to produce if they stayed with the class. Their response was very enthusiastic.

During the 9 a.m. classes for the children, four of their mothers were taking a cooking class with Justin Jett, who cooked professionally both in a cafe for a few years and at Mansur’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge.

As they introduced themselves, the students expressed their hopes for the class, which were practically unanimous. They were looking for quick, economical, simple, kid friendly and cheap, to which Dalton quipped, “And I want a million dollars.”

Nevertheless, that is what he delivered and demonstrated: caramelized apples served with whole grain toast (he used and recommended Ezekiel bread). Everyone enjoyed the results of the unusual combination and agreed that the apples could also be used to top other foods.

Jett promised that future classes would offer a wide variety of foods, including some full meals.

On Sept. 26, Dance, Cooking (for parents) and Finance (for parents, taught by Jackie Reed), will all be held at 9 a.m.; Gospel Choir will be held at 10 a.m. as usual; Voice taught by Kenneth Mitchell at 11:30 a.m.; and Drums will be at noon, as usual. Plans are for the classes to continue throughout the school year, with Art classes by Cherie Ducote-Breaux, Drama with the Rev. Conie Saizon, Piano with Dr. Alejandro Arguello and Beth Arguello, and Guitar lessons to be added to the curriculum in due course.

The Young Artists Academy is a 501(c)3 organizationnames Psalm 37:3. Board members are both church members and others drawn from the community: Jimmy Durbin, president, Sarah Scott, vice president, Bill Boutte, Gladier Dalton, Rene Delahoussaye, Ted Hansen, Cathy Henderson, Kay Keen, Kathryn Martin, Arthur Perkins, Jackie Reed, Lonnie Shupe and Butch Wax.Donations are gratefully accepted.

To donate, sign up for classes or for more information, call Luke 10:27 at 664-1027.

Young Artists’ Academy will hold a grand opening ceremony this Sunday, Sept. 27, from 3:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Jimmy Durbin will emcee and the YAA Gospel Choir will perform. Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry will speak and Arthur Perkins will also make remarks. A reception will follow. Luke 10:27 is located at 536 Centerville St. NE in Denham Springs. The public is invited to attend.

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