CHATHAM — Grammy Award-winning rapper Che "Rhymefest" Smith and his wife, Donnie, have teamed up with fellow Grammy winner Kanye West to help provide a free arts and writing program for youths.
Last year West founded Donda's House, a nonprofit organization named after his late mother, Donda West. The Smiths, who live in Chatham, are working together out of the organization's new headquarters at St. Sabina Church's youth center, The ARK.
"A lot of music and art teachers were among the thousands of employees laid off by CPS, and many of those teachers taught at schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods," said Donnie Smith, the organization's director and an English teacher at Whitney Young High School.
"Our programs will offer a strong writing component. It is important that youth be able to express themselves both physically and on paper," she said.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina in Auburn Gresham, said he partnered with the organization because it was a perfect fit for his church.
“We are honored to partner with Donda’s House for this important new program," Pfleger said. "It complements our existing youth programs and will encourage more people to come to a creative safe haven here at St. Sabina.”
The Got Bars program is not limited to at-risk youths but welcomes "all youth between the ages 15 to 24," said Rhymefest, who serves as the organization's assistant director.
"There is no one group of youth we are trying to reach. If there are black, white, Latino or Asian youth interested in our programs, then we want to hear from them," he said. "I will be working with youth on the music portion of the program where they will learn how to write lyrics," Rhymefest said.
Interested youths must apply online or in person at St. Sabina by 5 p.m. Aug. 2 to be considered for the 10-week pilot program, which begins Aug. 8 and ends Oct. 24. A total of 30 youths will be chosen to participate in the program, which includes a health and wellness component, said Donnie Smith, who received her bachelor's in secondary education in 2006 from DePaul University.
In a statement, West said he started the organization to honor all the hard work his mother, a 30-year educator, put into helping youths.
"My mom spent her life as an educator, and I am happy that Donda's House can pick up her torch and honor her life's mission," West said.
He added that his mother believed that arts instruction improves a child’s analytical and creative capacity. She used this philosophy in her classroom, which enabled her students to become successful in life, he said.