By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
In 2005, about 30 young artists gathered in the basement of a Seattle home. They shared a vision of starting a more positive hip-hop scene for young people—wanting a scene with more purpose than what was there at the time.
From that meeting came a hip-hop dance outreach event held in 2006 in the Chong Wa Benevolent Association building in Chinatown. The jam, dubbed 4theluvofit, went beyond seeing who was the best b-boy or b-girl. May Praseuth, who was at that meeting more than a decade and a half ago, said people also shared the work they were doing to give back to the community.
The Good Foot Arts Collective, which Praseuth co-founded alongside her husband Louie Praseuth, also emerged from that basement meeting. “The good foot” was inspired by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown (as many breakers know and dance to his music), and “collective” represents the different skills, talents, passions, characters, and identities an artist brings to the table. The organization started with a focus on ending violence before it begins, and has since refined that focus to provide domestic abuse awareness and youth violence prevention advocacy through arts education, according to its website.
“We believe the platform of mentorship, [hip-hop] expression and culturally relevant youth programs through the arts is essential for young people to express themselves creatively as we provide a safe space to learn, grow and thrive,” The Good Foot website states.
Creating a community they want to see
As an organization with its roots in hip-hop, May said at The Good Foot, they have the highest respect for those who came before them and work to pay homage to the Black and brown folks who started it all.
The culture, which began in New York, came from folks who were not allowed in certain spaces because they were dark skinned. So, May said, they created their own community. Since then, hip-hop has touched people of all walks of life, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. And in Seattle, it touches kids of color more deeply because the culture comes from struggle.
While violence prevention has always been part of The Good Foot’s ethos, the organization started out as a high-performance arts space, holding dance workshops and bringing in choreographers. May said it was around 2010 or 2011 that they began centering their work on domestic abuse education and advocacy.
May said issues of toxicity kept coming up—female members of their community weren’t feeling heard or seen and all of a sudden, they were no longer a part of the scene.
It was around this time that May was working at a domestic violence center and started learning about such issues in intimate partnerships. But what she was learning was coming from mostly middle-aged white women who had no real stake in Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) communities, which is who The Good Foot focuses on serving.
May also realized that in order to address The Good Foot’s issues, she needed to address those same issues in her own relationship. You can’t operate a well-oiled machine if there are rusty pieces, she noted.
One of the things to come out of this is The Good Foot’s No Excuses campaign, which “advocates for safety and empowers youth to build an environment of NO tolerance for violence, sexual misconduct, toxic behavior, or abuse in BIPOC youth communities and in the [hip-hop], street dance community,” according to its website.
In addition to a prevention training curriculum manual, No Excuses has produced educational flipbooks. These books—which were illustrated and designed by Chris Kaku, in collaboration with South Seattle youths, Ayiana Hernandez-Kiehn, Kymberli Owens, Ajani Kemp, Jermaine Ly, and Kaycee Casio—cover topics of jealousy, destructive anger, peer pressure, threats, gaslighting, and mental health.
At last month’s Massive Monkees Day, May spoke to the crowd about No Excuses, offering free flip books as well as sharing training resources for those interested in learning how to keep their communities safe. With breakin’ coming to the 2024 Olympics, May told Northwest Asian Weekly that creating safe spaces for young people wanting to participate is especially important.
Bringing it into the classroom
In addition to No Excuses, The Good Foot has developed Creative Leaders Affirming Youth (CLAY), a 10-session healthy relationship, social/emotional support, and youth violence prevention curriculum. They started in 2014 at Rainier Beach High School and in 2017, when the CLAY curriculum was formalized, they were also in Franklin High School.
CLAY is taught in ninth-grade health classes—May said they wanted to reach students as young as possible—and teaches students about teen dating violence awareness, warning signs, sexual assault education, healthy community, gender stereotypes, and gender-based violence. Through the program, young people are equipped and empowered to address domestic violence directly. As May puts it, CLAY is practical and provides young people with resources on how to talk to someone they think might be in a bad situation.
“We have a super strong partnership with the schools and we’re so thankful,” May said, adding that with sexual harassment and domestic violence increasing exponentially—as well as an uptick in cyberbullying and harassment—during the pandemic, The Good Foot’s partnership continued with remote learning and CLAY was taught virtually.
The folks who teach CLAY are all BIPOC and many have gone through the program as youths themselves. May said they’re either contractors with The Good Foot or on staff.
Getting youth ready for high school
As the school year comes to a close, The Good Foot also offers a summer program for incoming ninth graders at Rainier Beach and Franklin high schools, called Level UP and Power UP, respectively.
The four-week program focuses on preparing students for the transition into high school and covers topics ranging from social and emotional literacy, identity development, public speaking and organizational skills, to financial literacy, red-lining, and generational wealth. At the end of the program, scholars will receive a 0.5 elective credit and 10 service hours toward graduation.
This summer, Level UP and Power UP will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, from July 1-29 (with days off for observed holidays), with Fridays reserved as field days or field trips.
Each program has 60 spots open and The Good Foot is accepting applications through June 17. To apply, visit thegoodfootarts.org/summer-programs.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.