CLEVELAND — For the past 10 years, and continuing, Refresh Collective, a local nonprofit on Cleveland’s near West Side, is empowering teens and giving them confidence through hip-hop.
Making the transition to adulthood can be a real struggle emotionally. We often hear about "teenage angst," that feeling of I'm misunderstood, what is life?
It’s familiar territory for Dennis Ducsay.
While the beats he drops are smooth, life for Ducsay can sometimes get bumpy.
"My hands will shake, and I get excited," said Ducsay.
The 17-year-old has autism.
"In person I'm shy," said Ducsay.
The up-and-coming rapper, who said he often comes across as misunderstood and puzzled, is getting a chance to express himself while building self-esteem.
"I take nerves and I transfer it into energy and then I just completely explode on stage,” said Ducsay.
The teen has been able to unleash his inner voice through "Refresh Collective" on Cleveland's near West Side.
"Refresh collective harnesses the power of hip-hop music and design to equip youth," said Doc Harrill.
Harrill, a hip-hop artist and producer, who is also known as Dee Jay Doc, launched this initiative to make it easier for young people to express their emotions.
"There are students who are now adults that said in their teenage years they probably would have committed suicide because of the depression they were going through," said Harrill.
Over the last decade, Harrill has helped 7,000 students produce 650 songs.
"That's like write, record, perform those songs in their school or in their community. I always had a passion to pass on the craft to the next generation," said Harrill.
Ducsay first connected with Harrill in the ninth grade.
"It was awesome watching Dennis go from like struggling so bad in certain situations in school to becoming one of the leaders," said Harrill.
While there's a lot of diversity among these young artists there are also similarities.
“There's a lot of hope in these neighborhoods," said Harrill.
Many of the young people come from economically-challenged communities.
"When students get to know each other and find out there are other teenagers who live in the same environment I live in that have this perspective that we can make a better land," said Harrill.
Ducsay is using his time in the spotlight to not only build himself up, but also break down barriers while raising awareness about Autism.
Harrill said by arming the next generation with these skills we all benefit.
"I don't feel as much like we're doing something to help these kids, it's more so we're helping these kids help everyone else in the community," said Harrill.
As each performer gets a unique opportunity to shine while sharing their stories along the way.
"I like whenever people come up to me and tell me I inspire them, especially if they're adults because if a 17-year-old can inspire an adult it's just anything's possible,” said Ducsay.
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