Byline: Lauren Balkan, LCSW, Director of the Pathways School Based Youth Services Program
In celebration of National Poetry Month, the recently reopened New Brunswick Performing Arts Center held a free hybrid music event and mental health discussion on April 15, 2021 featuring young local artists.
Headlining the event was hip-hop "artist on the rise" and Middlesex County native, Marcony Saint-Juste, better known as CONY. Several performers, including CONY, are Carteret High School graduates and were specifically involved in Pathways School Based Youth Services Program at CHS.
Patrons and live stream attendees were greeted by the energetic sounds of DJ Webb as the theater safely filled and online guests tuned in. Lindsay Erben, the master of ceremonies and event creator, welcomed attendees and introduced the performers.
Ms. Erben specifically acknowledged the Arts Institute of Middlesex County, the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC), New Brunswick Cultural Center's Hub City Sounds, and Pathways School Based Youth Services Program (in conjunction with Wellspring Center for Prevention). She also recognized Ken Armwood, Middlesex County Commissioner, whose recent passing touched many. He was instrumental in making this event happen and believed that hip-hop allows the community a vehicle for self-expression and gives a voice to those who are often silenced.
The night began with inspiring and moving poetry delivered by Ameerah Shabazz-Bilal, an educator in the Newark Public School system and author of a newly published book titled "Breathing Through Concrete." She was followed by Gideon Abadilla who beautifully stepped along to the music of Germain Brito, an internationally acclaimed trumpet player.
Headliner CONY delivered a heartfelt performance, overflowing with emotion and gratitude for his ability to share his music with the community and to be recognized.
Following his performance, I sat down with CONY to talk about his journey, his experiences with mental health and getting support. During the interview, CONY stated that Pathways SBYSP provided the shelter and safety he needed at a difficult time in his life and that the program believed in him before he believed in himself.
As Carly Baldwin reported on Patch.com, CONY sought mental health support from Pathways during his time at CHS, especially after the untimely death of his grandmother. The Pathways staff encouraged him to start writing his thoughts in a journal, which launched his passion for poetry, spoken word and music.
CONY says he found his strength through writing and performing, and he's passionate about sharing that connection with other young people.
"If it weren't for Pathways and for the arts, I wouldn't be where I am today," CONY told Patch. "No matter where I go, mental health access is at the core of my story and remains a big part of my message. I am happy to be able to give back and share my journey with others who may need to hear it, especially right now."
In his interview with Patch, CONY also noted that mental health awareness and support aren't always talked about in the hip-hop scene, and he hopes to change that.
"There is a lot of stigma surrounding access and the challenges we all face … [and] essential resources are not always available to kids like me," he said. "Communities of color need access to these services, now more than ever, and we need to feel comfortable knowing that they are there for us."
CONY is scheduled to move to Atlanta in the upcoming months to pursue new and exciting opportunities. Before leaving, he wanted to give back to Middlesex County with this concert and discussion aimed specifically at those who may be struggling with social pressures and mental health challenges heightened by the pandemic.