"Opportunities to become popular and to perform worldwide don't compare to...putting a smile on sick child's face."
Wayne Winston, 35, provides an outlet for the youth in Brooklyn, New York, to express their artistic talents by giving them opportunities to perform in various venues and act as role models for their peers.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Wayne: As a recording artist and producer, I've organized my company to implement special projects for the youth in the community to participate in. Projects include annual toy drives and visitations to shelters and hospitals during Christmas, neighborhood yard and garden clean-ups, food drives and feeding individuals at churches, as well as other projects during the year.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Wayne: N.S.P. (Non-Stop Production) Youth, Inc., 398A Hancock Street #3R, Brooklyn, New York.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Wayne: NSP is a community-based organization dedicated to performing arts/talent management and supportive youth programs specifically geared for children, teens, and young adults. The main purpose of NSP is to promote young artists in a positive manner. Besides performing, we implement special youth community projects during the year. We currently have approximately 40 members, between ages 5 and 23. Performing community service is mandatory for each member, regardless of age. It teaches the youth the importance of helping others than just always performing, whether it's on stage, on television, recording, etc.
What inspired you to get involved?
Wayne: I started the company in 1983 when I was 14. It was actually by accident. I was taking a photography and journalism class after school with about 20 other youth and young adults. After a few months, when budget cuts forced the classes to be closed, I volunteered to continue teaching the class for six months until the program was complete. I knew the importance of keeping the kids involved and focused on their goal, which was the publication of their newspaper. During the following year, many of the kids enjoyed working with me and returned, and we formed a group, which included a rap/breakdance group as well as the photography class.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Wayne: By 1986, I started Non-Stop Production. It started as the hip-hop group mentioned previously), and we spent time rapping and educating kids on staying away from drugs and gangs. At the same time, I continued volunteering my time to teach the kids photography, art, and journalism.
As the group grew, we expanded into all areas of performing arts, including modeling, dance, and acting. The priority of the company was to remain involved in helping out the youth in the community. The goal was to teach the kids the importance of being role models and helping others, than just being a performer on stage. Our members range primarily between the ages of 5 and 22. Each member, regardless of age, has an important role in NSP.
In 1986, our rap group, Much Finesse, became the first group from NSP that became publicly active in the community. We recorded the video from our first song, "That Crack is Wack", which became our "anti-drug" campaign from 1986-89. Being both rapper and promoter, we eventually arranged to perform over 50 shows throughout New York City during those three years. Expansion of NSP and community opportunities continued during the next several years.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Wayne: Once we expanded into modeling and acting, we began acquiring opportunities to work in films, commercials, and other activities. As we continue to develop the talents of our members, the best experiences have always been seeing the kids put on a successful performance, whether as an individual or as a team. Projects vary, but the kids in NSP understand the importance of working together to get a job accomplished.
What is/was the hardest part?
Wayne: Through the years, we've had some bad financial situations. Personally, the hardest part has been maintaining the company financially. Every year, I've personally invested funds into NSP to see to it that many of our activities are completed. There is no direct source other than membership dues, which is little, but since we've become non-profit, we hope things will change in the near future. Even after 20+ years, many people don't know about the work we do with inner-city kids.
Also, we have had major personal situations occur with our youth that have helped to shape us into what we are today. In 1989, besides working on our anti-drug campaigns, we came across issues of teen pregnancy among the members. When one of our dancers became pregnant at 14, we didn't have counselors to deal directly with young ladies in the company. I still had to commit myself to being a mentor and friend to encourage all the girls to stay in school and work hard. To this day, I have stayed in contact with the young lady. She and her 15-year-old daughter are doing great.
In the summer of 1991, one of our members was shot and killed. That opened the doors to a lot of youth issues. Gun violence in Brooklyn was a major problem that year, and I'd found myself being asked to attend funerals of young people I didn't even know. However, I knew as a role model, it was still my job to be encouraging to others. This prompted the start of the N.S.P. Youth Council, which now is a key factor in the operation of Non-Stop Production. Today, all members of NSP automatically become members of the Youth Council, so they can understand the importance of addressing issues in their community.
What was the biggest surprise?
Wayne: The biggest surprise has been "fan support". I originally started as a rapper and developed a big following, sort of a fan club in the community. Compared to "big-name" successful rap artists, I had my own place in influencing in my community. Opportunities to become popular and to perform worldwide don't compare to performing in a hospital and putting a smile on sick child's face. Signing autographs at a school setting has more meaning than performing for millions around big arenas just because of who you are.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Wayne: I've learned how to be humble and accept things and conditions for what they are, and understand what limitations I have when dealing with them. I've always been a giving person because I come from a big, giving family. I've seen my aunts and uncles who've given their time to help others in their community, so personally, I'm just continuing a great family legacy, and hope that the kids who work with me can understand the importance of doing the same.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Wayne: Two things: 1) Be humble, and know your limitations. Don't try to do it all because you can get frustrated. Ninety percent of the time, if people see you doing good things, the support will come. It may not come as you want, but it will be there. 2) I always like to paraphrase "The Rock" (from World Wrestling Entertainment): "KNOW YOUR ROLE!" I break it down for the youth like this: Be "Real", "Observe" what the situation is, "Listen and Learn", then "Evaluate". Use that formula while working in the community. You see things, you make choices, and your choice can make a difference, not just in your life, but others.
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