Youth Leaders

Youth Spirit Artworks participants are engaged in empowering, trans-formative paid studio and community art-making.  Youth run most of the projects by themselves!

Sean McCreary

I’m 17 years-old and a Community Outreach Leader at YSA. I joined YSA in the summer of 2016. For the past two years I have learned about the struggles homelessness creates, and have been working diligently to confront the root of the problem: lack of affordable housing. I’ve empathized with many of the people I’ve met during my time here. The biggest challenge in my life has been hopping back on the horse after couch hopping, and patiently re-acclimating myself to a calm and relaxing life that I enjoy, as I choose. Working as a team every day in a positive space makes my day happier and helps me feel connected to something real. YSA is a space that melds worlds together through community, revolution and strength. Honesty has helped me grow as a person and in my leadership position. It has helped me own up to my short comings while also reporting my successes.

JR is my boss first and friend second. If there are days I come in with tired shoulders and a heavy head, he’s always there to check in with me. I’m able to talk to him about the parts of my life that effect my work and productivity while in the space. I try my best to be a good friend that ensures my peers feel their best when they’re around me. I’m supportive of their strengths so that they can shine, and push them forward to help them grow from their weaknesses.

It was an honor giving an acceptance speech on the organization’s behalf for a diploma that declared April 25th officially “YSA Day” in the City of Berkeley. My favorite art piece is my painting “You’re Your Universe”. It’s the only canvas I painted before I was promoted to Community Outreach & Organizing Leader. I’m looking forward to giving back to my community. I want to go to college to obtain a PhD in Law to become a Defense Attorney, in order to prevent Black and Latino citizens from being the majority in the prison industrial complex.

Reggie Gentry

I am 22 years old. I have been the Social Media Coordinator Leader at YSA for two years. I’m also a Twitch streamer, competitive gamer, and rugby player.
YSA means so much to me. It provides a source of income, community development through art, and a sense of welcoming and belonging. I receive art making support through mentoring, supplies, studio space, and positive enforcement. I was very happy to be promoted to Social Media Coordinator the 2017 summer semester.

The biggest challenge I have had in my life so far was when my family sold our house in the Oakland hills in 2009. JR, YSA program coordinator, has helped in life by giving me extra opportunities to help out, allowing me to prove what type of person I am; a person who loves to be helpful and show love. I have helped my friend Sean in life by giving him relationship advice and my honest opinions regarding his personal situations. I have also helped my friend Angel by giving her my honest opinions and constructive criticism on her drawings.

My favorite art piece is my 5×5 canvas entitled, “Division in Colors”. This piece depicts a heart that is colored half white, half back with a crooked line down the middle and a red background. The black and white with a crooked line represents the social divisions between black and white people. The red background represents love which is what it’s supposed to be all about. It’s my favorite because it’s my first canvas I have made. I am big on peace and love, and I received much praise from the former Art Director, Victor. I want my future to be filled with fun, community involvement to better it, and to be as drama-free as possible.

Maxx Bernard

I am currently 19 years old. I was born and raised in Berkeley and attend Berkeley City College, where I am pursuing a Sociology major. My current position at YSA is Outreach/Community Organizing Leader. My pronouns are he/him and they/them. I am on the autism spectrum, and I also identify as LGBTQ. YSA has been a community and a family for me. It provides a safe space for me to make and sell art. In life, my friends and my loved ones have helped me a lot. In YSA, the current staff, J.R., Angel, James, Sally, and former staff, Marnie and Victor support me a ton. I have helped my friends and loved ones with emotional and mental issues they’ve been through. I’ve also donated money to some fundraisers, and donated my hair to a cancer foundation. At YSA, I have helped some youth with advice related to art and personal issues. I have created workshops at YSA related to LGBTQ issues such as; the basics of gender identity, a guide to using pronouns for someone (especially among co-workers), and intersectionality.

A moment that I felt really happy and fully accepted for the first time, was during my first moshpit at the 921 Gilman Club earlier in 2017. Having my whole identity fully accepted by other people I know, love, and trust helps me cope with my own struggles, like not being able to pick up social cues due to my disability.

My favorite art piece so far has been a painting I did during the first summer of being at YSA, it was called “What Does It Mean To Be Human?”. It shows the true meaning of humanity, and is one of the art pieces I’m most proud of. My favorite artists are Mike Mignola and Jamie Hewlett. Vocationally, I envision being an artist and an activist that advocates for the communities I belong to, as well as advocating for other marginalized communities.

Mame Diarra Abdurrahman

I am 22 years old. I’ve been at YSA for a year and a half. My current position is YSA Street Spirit Newspaper Leader. I am a singer, poet, artist​ ​and Humanities major. My ​​favorite art form ​​​is classical ​music. ​​I ​​think ​​classical music is ​​so ​graceful, ​intricate ​and ​​well ​put together. I ​have ​been ​obsessed ​​with ​Bach’s piece, ​“Jesu, ​Joy of ​Man’s Desiring” ​​since ​​the beginning ​​of ​​time.

My ​​biggest ​​challenge ​has ​​been ​​battling ​my ​​depression ​and ​anxiety ​​surrounding ​fears ​​and ​​desires about my future. My ​father, George ​Ahmad ​Abdur Rahman,​​and his legacy ​​inspire ​​me ​and ​give ​me the ​​will to ​​live.

For me, Youth Spirit ​​Artworks ​means an open ​space ​​​to ​express ​and ​​grow, ​​something I​ otherwise wouldn’t ​get. ​​YSA ​helped ​​me ​​to ​take ​control ​of ​​my ​life ​​by ​giving ​me ​​tools of ​expression and leadership opportunities. I’d like to help​ ​the ​YSA students ​and ​​friends ​​of ​mine through providing loving emotional support ​​that allows ​​people ​to ​be themselves. Earning my ​​leadership ​​position ​was ​​the ​​beginning of ​feeling ​​happy ​​in ​awhile, I am very excited about ​moving ​​forward ​​and ​​doing ​​well. My ​future ​will ​consist of ​me ​​guiding ​​others ​​through ​challenges ​and being a ​​counselor. ​​I also imagine ​​having a ​family ​and ​​kids, preferably ​​in ​​the ​​countryside.

Jay Hill

I am 24 years old. I have been at YSA for three years. My current position is YSA Peer Support Leader. What YSA means to me is that we are family and it also means hope. The biggest challenge for me is being comfortable with my sexuality. Multiple people have helped me in life, and within YSA there are so many people to give a shout out to. I have met a lot of great friends, and I hope I have helped them in some way. The happiest moment in my life was when I joined YSA and felt connected with the community here. My favorite art piece is a Black Mermaid painting that I made. I hope my future life will be happy no matter what.

Angel Brinston

I am 16 years old. I have been at YSA for two years. My current position is YSA Apprentice Leader. YSA is the place where I can be me and express myself. Many people have helped me in my life. The happiest moment in my life was when I made new friends at YSA. My favorite art piece is my painting of a geisha. My dream is to become an animator like Hayao Miyazaki. The biggest challenge that I have now is how to be a good Apprentice Leader.

Oni V

I am 22 years old. I have been coming to YSA for almost two years. My current position is YSA Non-Profit Management Leader. When I first heard about YSA, I was very happy to find a place where I could do my own art. YSA has allowed me to gain vocational experience through the opportunities it has given me. I felt very happy when I sold my first art piece, it was a painting of two coy fish in a pond. The fish had a fantasy look to them. I put a doll head on one of their scales. The other one was more angelic, but still sharp. My biggest challenge has been finding financial stability in the Bay Area. I am on my own and I still have not attended college. In the future, I wish to have a peaceful life. I seek education and employment related to my love of animals.

Isabel Gallegos

My age is 25. I have been going to YSA for three years now. My current position is YSA Apprentice Leader. My hobbies are playing with my American girl dolls, rainbow loom, writing my book, and listening to new books from different authors. My biggest challenge currently is to be independent in my life and live on my own. For me, YSA is a place do art and learn about different jobs every Friday. My family and supervisors at YSA help me a lot. My favorite art piece is a painting inspired by a Dinky the Duck Beanie Baby I have from my childhood. I still collect them. My dream is to be a writer and have my books sold worldwide.

Eloni Bickham

I am 15 years old and have been at YSA for 3 months. I am currently an Apprentice Leader.

For me, YSA is a productive and supportive community. Everyone is close and YSA really puts value on their employees well being. It’s a great non-judgmental accepting environment and has changed me a lot. My biggest challenge in my life is something I am still struggling with, my relationship with my mom. YSA has helped me through it.

Someone who helped me a lot at YSA is Mame Diarra. She has helped me open up and find myself, in and out of YSA. I hope as time goes by I can make a positive impact on someone, as well. I felt really happy at YSA on a Friday during a really inspiring meeting. My favorite art piece is my poster, because it acknowledges beauty and the importance of black women. It’s a really personal piece. I think my future is going to involve a career related to math, but I will always have art.

Emerald Balke Juarez

I am 15 years old. I have been at YSA for 10 months. My current position is YSA Aspirant Leader. I love reading, writing and doodling. Also puns, they are awesome.
The biggest challenge in my life so far has been myself. To me, YSA means a community where I make art in a structured environment. YSA is somewhere to have fun, and still be working. One moment that made me happy was when I had proposed a question during check-out about TV shows and everybody contributed to the conversation and was laughing.

My favorite art that I made at YSA is a collection of earrings made from an old bracelet and stray beads. I like it because it’s repurposed and some of the first pieces of jewelry I made at YSA. In the future, I want to be an author. I love to write fictional stories, and would love to write books while also having time to work on my other art.

Brandon Harris

I am 27 years old. I am currently Art Sales Leader at YSA. My hometown is Oakland, California. The spirit of entrepreneurialism inspires me. People say I am such a terrific salesman, I could sell ANYTHING. My preferred artistic style is Abstract on Canvas. I create art out of love and joy, and I care about my audience. Art gets me in my flow. I like to be real with myself. I want my audience to know me, so my art conveys stories about my life. Art-making provides me an opportunity to challenge myself and to engage in a process of growth. Creative independence and autonomy remain a consistent goal of mine. I like to feel powerful, and when I create art I feel very, very powerful.

Jason Powell Smith


I am 24 years old. I have been at YSA for four and a half years. My current position is Apprentice Leader. YSA is my family. I appreciate that JR has helped me a lot and encouraged me to be a good person. My favorite art piece is the tiny house that I made. Saving money is the biggest challenge for me now. I would like to find a job in the future in the area of my developing interests.