When I was growing up in New York City's Washington Heights, you had to hop on the 1 train to get exposure to arts and culture at a museum downtown. It simply wasn't part of the uptown neighborhood like it is now.
However, although times have changed, lack of accessibility to the arts remains a challenge for most kids today, just like it was for me.
I know first-hand the benefits of being exposed to arts and music at an early age. It helped me escape the harsh reality of the Heights, with its drugs and its crime. It opened my horizons and made me dream of bigger and better things. And it got me out of my comfort zone.
I fell in love with the arts in high school and I was able to take advantage of everything New York City had to offer. From Shakespeare in the Park to the Nuyorican Poet Café in the Lower East Side -- I did it all.
Having the opportunity to experience the arts helped me grow in an incredible way, and this is why it is important for me to expose my two kids to the arts whenever I can.
Just last week, I was excited to have the chance to go on a Mommy-Daughter date to see The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. It was amazing!
Attending the performance was special on many levels. I had always wanted to go to a show, especially since I attended Fordham University at Lincoln Center, just a few blocks away from the actual Alvin Ailey School in Manhattan. It was always so close and yet so far away. As a struggling college student, I couldn't afford to attend a show.
Now, I was able to experience this with my 8-year-old daughter, who was moved by the program, particularly Revelations, their final presentation and their most acclaimed masterpiece. It was a very emotional and compelling performance comprised of dances such as 'Take Me to the Water" and "Move, Members Move." Revelations traces the tale of redemption central to Alvin Ailey's vision of exodus from slavery to freedom all with beautiful gospel music.
The program also included The River and Pas de Duke, along with Night Creature, three of the 14 ballets founder Alvin Ailey created during his career that celebrate the musical genius of Duke Ellington. Watching these talented dancers move so gracefully was simply fascinating.
Seeing how my daughter enjoyed the show, and considering how the arts shaped me into the person I am today, makes me especially sad when I see so many arts programs being cut at schools. Arts education has been found to produce many beneficial results for children. It helps close the achievement gap, "leveling the learning field across socio-economic boundaries."
Aside from Alvin Ailey hosting free performances for students and hosting a summer camp program, they also have the Revelations: An Interdisciplinary Approach residency program for public school students every year.
Educating students beyond reading, writing and arithmetic teaches them to be creative thinkers and to experience the world in a different way. With art and music programs cut across the country's schools because of funding cuts, it's so refreshing to see a program like Alvin Ailey invest in our children's future. Another great program is Arte por la Paz Foundation or Art for Peace, which fosters creativity and better communication skills in elementary school students, started by Giselle Blondet.
My hope is that more organizations will see the value of investing in arts and music programs. As parents, let's take advantage of everything that's available and use the power of the arts to enrich and positively alter the lives of our children.
Follow Julissa Bonfante on Twitter: www.twitter.com/julesbonfante