Bentrice Jusu of Both Hands: The Artlet transforms Trenton youths’ idea of art as an expression

Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, is home to several popular musicians such as Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx of the trio Labelle. Music is a rich part of Trenton’s history and culture, yet young people in the area are completely unaware of how influential and inspirational their hometown is.

Bentrice Jusu, a woman who was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, wanted to make a difference in the community and started a non-profit organization called Both Hands: The Artlet. This organization, founded in 2011, “uses the arts to transform the young people’s lives and help them articulate themselves in other ways that they otherwise would not know how to,” Jusu said. Their goal is to “engage young people through unconventional art tools and teaching tools.” Overall, Jusu said that she wanted to make Both Hands a place where children and teenagers in Trenton can go to express themselves, and that the program “seeps into the community and does what it is supposed to do.”

Jusu is determined to make a difference in not only the community, but also the children themselves. She is looking to open their minds and let them see their full potential, while they make a change in the town in which they call home. “They’re starting to realize that they have some sort of offering to the world and that they are artists, whatever they might be.” She said that her program will eventually make a difference in Trenton as a whole because when the foundational beliefs of a community exists, so does its culture. “We are making an impact on the city because once their foundational beliefs have shifted [the children also] start to also give into the community.” Teaching young children and teenagers the arts while they are still young gives them a potential to carry into the future. By having a program that promotes the importance of expression, self-worth, creativity, and values, children of Trenton are learning that art is such an important and special part of living.

The Trenton Makes Music project, started by Professor Kim Pearson and Professor Teresa Nakra of The College of New Jersey, and continued by students, intends to provide accessible accounts, profiles, photographs, videos, and files pertaining to Trenton music history so that people are more aware of how rich and influential the musical history of New Jersey’s state capital really is. When asked if the use of this project would benefit her program, Ms. Jusu said without hesitation, “Absolutely!” She noted that the problem with the children and teenagers at Both Hands are not aware of what is going around them, not only globally, but also locally. “Yeah, we have local artists, people that are doing their thing, but no real people with tangible talent that they would look to.” Having a source and archive to go to to provide this information, and allow Jusu to teach the children about people just like them who went on to have a career in the arts and music field would make such a great impact on their motivation, in turn increasing their contributions to the community. Jusu added, “If they have a care and appreciation for the history of it, I think that they would absolutely benefit from that.”

Both Hands: The Artlet uses arts to “transform lives” in Trenton, focusing on “personal growth, exploration, self-expression, fun, and creativity.” These newly attributed assets will help the students to “pursue their education and futures, through high school and beyond,” which ultimately has an impact on the Trenton community. Teenagers and young children in Trenton are being taught to express themselves through this program, and art is an avenue that should be explored and not ignored. Following the promises in their “Young Artist Ensemble Directive, “We [the Young Artists of Both Hands] produce even when it’s uncomfortable because our mission is to save our audience and provide an experience that shifts their paradigm.”

Through the Trenton Makes Music Project, these children will be able to learn so much more valuable information about people who lived in their hometowns and had a great impact on the community of music. Jusu hopes to share this information with them to spark their appreciation of their hometown as well as inform them about what is going on around them. The impact of culture and history, especially that of music, will be a great asset to the children’s learning experience.

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