For 64 years, PCYC staff members have brought an amazing depth and breadth of knowledge, experience and compassion to young people and families in our community. Following are but three examples of present-day staff members who honor that rich history and are building a bright future with the people we serve.
Kankemwa Green began her work as the K-5 Academic Specialist for PCYC’s After School Enrichment Program this fall with great enthusiasm. “I love connecting with children and working with them one on one. …And I love the academic enrichment piece of this work. It allows me, as a teacher, to be as creative as I want. There’s something for all the students. If a child likes worksheets we create worksheets, or if a child really likes to cook we study and learn together through recipes.”
Kankemwa (also known as Kanke) sees great value in the literacy lessons she teaches, too, as well as the trauma-informed care and the social-emotional learning component of the curriculum. “It’s a really well-rounded program. It expands our scholars’ minds, and that translates to academic growth.” “I know it sounds cliché, but children are the future, and early intervention is everything. Now is the time for our young scholars to see new things, go to new places, and to learn everything they can.”
Kanke was raised by a Nigerian woman and an African American man on the east side of St. Paul. She’s the third of seven children in her family. In addition to her work at PCYC, she’s studying for a Masters Degree in Teaching at Hamline University, thanks in part to encouragement from OST managers Catrice O’Neal and Jaleeza Smith-Breedlove. “Their guidance and support has been incredible.”
And while her daily drive to PCYC from her home in St. Paul is fraught with construction delays, Kanke enjoys reaching out to a different part of her community. “The northside of Minneapolis has a rich history and I believe in my heart that it has a very bright future. I’m honored to be a part of this future in the making.”
Throughout her life, Crystal Ruiz has been a tireless and effective advocate for education.
In her current role as PYC’s College and Career Manager and a school leader, Crystal brings innovative ideas and approaches to her work. She’s evaluated PYC programming in depth. “I’ve researched all angles and information. My love for the youth does not allow me to half-step my homework.”
Crystal has an enduring respect for and understanding of our students, as evidenced by the wide range of services her department provides, including:
- Encouraging participation in the post-secondary education program with Minneapolis College (participation has doubled in the last year).
- Developing partnerships with trades programs such as TreeTrust and MN Trades Academy for students who excel at hands-on education.
- Helping students develop interviewing skills and solid resumes.
- Increasing STEP-UP employment opportunities through AchieveMpls.
- Developing email and phone lists to stay in contact with graduates, many of whom she continues to mentor.
And this is a partial list!
The next phase of Crystal’s educational advocacy journey includes seeking a Masters Degree in School Counseling. “My desire to teach others, to widen perspectives, and to be a mentor as others were for me, is what has guided me on this path. My students are navigating similar systems as I did, and I feel honored to walk beside them on their journey; a journey that can only strengthen the roots of our community.”
Gregory Graham (or Graham, as he is more widely known) has worked at the Capri Theater for 31 years.
Graham grew up on the south side of Minneapolis, with Jimmy Jam as a neighbor. “I remember his mom calling him in for piano lessons. He hated that. But it paid off, didn’t it?”
He began his music career in the ‘70s when the Capri was at the epicenter of the scene. “The Battle of the Bands were here. I didn’t play an instrument, and there was no one to run sound or lights, so that’s how I got hooked into it.”
After years on the road as a pro soundman, Graham came home and got a job driving the van for the 4H American Variety Theater Program (AVTP), an urban arts program at the Capri. Graham’s van was always full, and the kids loved being at the Capri. During that time he helped a group of girls start their own tap dance group, the Tap Twisters, all of whom eventually graduated from college. “They all experienced poverty, the whole nine yards. Our program just lifted them up.”
When he wasn’t driving the van, Graham cleaned out parts of the theater that weren’t being used. “I hauled out fi ve dumpsters by myself. I saw the potential in this building. This was a theater!”
When PCYC bought the Capri in 1984, Graham was still here – and he’s never left. “What I do here is my mission and my ministry. This is a safe place where kids get to explore the creative process. They learn critical thinking skills. We establish real, trusting relationships with them. …I tell them, ‘In this theater there’s a place for you. There’s a place for you in the arts.’ ”
“I want to make sure that, down the road, kids can still come back here and let us know they’re all right, and see that everything here is all right, and even better.”