In December 2006 Deedee Mills started mentoring a 12-year-old boy in the Charlotte community after meeting him at a local charity Christmas event. Due to his family dynamics and various circumstances, the boy was in and out of homes, joined a gang and dropped out of school.
“I’m such a believer in sports bringing at risk kids out of situations and onto an even playing field, but what happens if the kid isn’t an athlete?”
After 17 years with the Carolina Panthers, Deedee decided she needed to answer that question. So, falling back on her love and appreciation for the arts, the Behailu Academy was born.
“I feel like if he had been given the opportunity to experience a place like the Behailu Academy, we would be packing him up to go to college instead of worrying about where his next meal is coming from. I can’t let that happen to another kid.”
Deeedee Mills founded Behailu Academy in 2011. Deedee was committed to providing a safe and creative environment that used the arts and community service to empower youth in urban schools.
2012-2013 School Year
The first programs for youth at Garinger High School began in October, 2012. The spring of 2013, students from Eastway Middle School were enrolled in daily programming. Dance classes, computer animation, music production, band, painting, and mixed media were among some of the first classes offered. We partnered with The Light Factory to offer summer camps for teens.
2013-2014 School Year
In the fall, we purchased two vans to assist with student transportation and expanded our reach to include Cochrane Collegiate Academy. Through a Cultural Project Grant from Arts & Science Council, Behailu youth explored the role of youth during the Civil Rights Era through the arts and music. This project included workshop presentations by and a trip to the Levine Museum of the New South, a trip to the Harvey B. Gantt Center, student discussions, and culminated with a mural on the back of our building in NoDa. Teens volunteered their time preparing Garinger’s Garden for spring planting.
2014-2015 School Year
We welcomed a new partnership with Queens University’s Music Therapy Program this year. QU students and their supervisor provided Music Therapy classes for Behailu youth that focused on healthy behaviors and stress reduction. We launched Voices! Behailu Academy’s online student publication with the support of a Cultural Project Grant from ASC. Students had the opportunity to attend multiple cultural experiences throughout the year, including performances by Moving Poets, Playing for Others, and attending the LEAF Festival in Asheville, NC. Youth volunteered at the Men’s Shelter serving dinner, hosting game days, and making Valentine’s Day care packages. We wrapped up the year with our Spring Showcase at the Neighborhood Theater in June. The summer included camps provided by Driven Minds, Charlotte Community Radio, Discovery Place, and others.
2015-2016 School Year
This year, we welcomed additional staff thanks to a grant from the City of Charlotte. We hired a program coordinator, an academic facilitator, and an administrative with the assistance of the grant funds. The additional staff allowed us to extend program hours to include our Beyond Behailu workshops. We also began piloting A Seat at the Table: Youth exploration of art, technology, and access. This project provides youth with an opportunity to share their voices and become a part of the discussion around important social issues in their communities. It is funded in part by ASC. Three teens from Behailu had an opportunity to participate in Playing for Others’ Program. Several others will spend their Saturdays working with Moving Poets on the project: Think Outside, Inside the Box. As in years past, we look forward to sharing students’ work at CPCC’s Sensoria Festival this spring. This summer, we are excited to offer an upcycled instrument class and problem-based make class designed to develop a sound reducing solution for our facility with the support of a Making the Future Grant from Cognizant.