Marcus Crawford Guy’s blog: POSITIVE + REALISTIC.

Marcus Crawford Guy, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP on STAGE! This program gives over 1,500 NYC youth access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP on STAGE! partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.


Blog Post #3:



We’re playing the Game of Life. Well, actually, we’re working with students to build it, asking them to complete the board with events, choices and circumstances that will shape their play in our final class this Thursday – “Remember to bring dice, Mr Marcus – that spinner thing won’t do!”

We’re working in a juvenile correction program at Passages Academy, where the common trait among all of the students is some kind of criminal charge, though we don’t get into those conversations. It’s a given and we work hard to move beyond that to build a creative and productive classroom environment. But with an ever-changing community, the politics are clear and while some infractions are considered “cool”, others are unanimously agreed upon as unforgivable. Regardless of the specifics, these factor entrench the students in a highly complex social environment. So when I posed the question: “What’s a negative event that could happen in your life?” it’s unsurprising that the answer was matter of fact “go to jail” because, generally speaking, it could be agreed upon – no politics.

Ok, well let’s think about something with lower stakes?” This caused a silence. “What’s something that could go wrong for me today that would affect me negatively but not be so high stakes as to cause me to break the law?” More silence. “Umm…you could stub your toe.” This was followed by a long and fairly intricate conversation about what feels normal, what feels bad, and what feels great for the students in their current state of being. The positivity and negativity associated with certain events exist on a sliding scale based on the privileges we are conditioned to. It makes sense and my upper middle class upbringing didn’t account for this.

Our dialogue about positive life events took a similar turn. The students weren’t willing to put events on the board that they couldn’t imagine for themselves. It was not productive, they said, to think about things that simply wouldn’t happen. I challenged this with the idea that if this was true, then thinking about the extreme negatives would only make them more likely to happen. So we agreed that we wanted to make a game board that felt realistic and true to the lives these young men were leading but that didn’t confine them to a certain realm of success or growth in the world.

And so, what was supposed to be a simple conversation about how we complete the game, became a complex discussion of what’s positive, productive and promotes success for this specific population. For the community in question, positive days felt like ones without negative interaction vs. being ones where something great happened. The latter just wasn’t in their realm of expectation.

As I gear up to play the game tomorrow morning, I’m thinking about how we can lift these students up, even when they are living with limited choices. How can they move forward and have lives that aren’t defined by their mistakes but by their potential to grow and move beyond this moment in their very young lives?

Our game board is deliberately two thirds positive – here’s hoping that’s what’s still to come!


Volunteer Reflection: Gabby Serrano


Name: Gabby Serrano

Age: 28

Where are you from, originally?  New York City!

How did you find out about ASTEP? Referred by a fellow volunteer. Shout out to Luz De La Cruz!

Which programs have you been a part of? ASTEP Arts Camp at Shanti Bhavan and ASTEP on STAGE! at the Incarnation Children’s Center and CHOICES Alternative to Detention program.

Do you have a background in teaching, when you started? No!

What is your arts background? I’ve been a visual artist for as long as I can remember. It all began with two of the finest mediums, crayons and paint (I’ll include fingers, as it was finger-painting to be exact). Early on, I realized that I truly enjoyed taking the time to freely express myself and continuously build off of previous efforts. Like many adults, life happened, and my passion lay dormant for a few years. It wasn’t until I decided to take an elective in sculpting that I found myself drawn back in and reacquainted with my long time love of the arts. I continued to create at my own leisure and pushed myself to explore different mediums and forms of art. A friend took notice to my artwork and recommended that I check out an organization that she had recently volunteered with in Florida. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I found myself on a flight heading to ASTEP’s art camp in India at Shanti Bhavan to teach visual arts. I currently use art regularly as an outlet and as a challenge to encourage myself to keep learning new and fun ways to create.

What challenges did you overcome while on site? There were times when we had additional attendees at a workshop and limited art supplies. One particular activity required drawing your neighbor’s portrait. Because there weren’t enough utensils to allow each child to choose their own medium, the activity underwent some impromptu revisions. We asked each child to randomly exchange mediums throughout the lesson, so that each child had a chance to explore a different medium while creating a single portrait. This essentially encouraged them (and I) to improvise and foster resourcefulness.

What victories did you achieve, while on site? There have been several occasions where people (both children and adults) have communicated their dislike or difficulty with visual arts prior to starting the activity because they feel that “they’re just not good at it.” It has been an ongoing learning experience for me as a teaching artist to find innovative and empathetic ways to help others overcome that self-proclaimed barrier, which can potentially influence their ability to thoroughly try. There was one particular instance, when a teenager didn’t want to partake in the activity for the same reason. However, after sharing a short chat with him that I realized he just needed some additional guidelines to work off. Once I provided him with some helpful hints on how to create a proportionate face, he really got into the assignment and created an amazing portrait. He was so proud of his work and even his fellow classmates took notice to his artwork. He’s a visual artist–he just needed some tools and encouragement to see his own potential.

What did working with ASTEP teach you about yourself? I’m currently a social work intern with a passion for visual arts. ASTEP is largely accredited for encouraging me to continue to pursue the arts and integrate it into my future career.  I’ve learned that I can combine my two passions and that it is totally possible to create whatever it is you envision.

What program is next for you? As an intern, I have fortunately been able to still partake in some of the volunteer opportunities in the tristate area. Some of the new, and more recent ASTEP programs are Women in Need and CHOICES. Once I graduate, I’d love to return to Shanti Bhavan and try other international and statewide opportunities.