My earliest memories of Mind Builders Creative Arts Center are from my late teens. I remember passing the building on my way to a friends house wondering what it was like inside. Residing off of Gun Hill Road and White Plains Road, it wasn’t until recently that I visited the building (now newly renovated) to take a tour and meet with Founder and Executive Director, Madaha Kinsey-Lamb, to talk about the center’s history and mission.
“One day we’ll wake up and discover we are family,” reads a quote by social activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu featured on the picturesque mural that welcomes every visitor. That message of community isn’t just painted on the walls, it’s carried through every classroom by the teachers, students and staff. It has been an integral piece of the Mind Builders brand for almost 40 years.
Mind Builder’s journey began in 1978 with Kinsey-Lamb’s desire to create accessible opportunities for quality arts and culture programs for her daughter and other families in The Bronx. The former public school teacher had always thought about starting an independent academic school that included the Arts, but realizing the need for the Arts in the North Bronx, her dream soon transformed into a nonprofit that would focus primarily on Arts Education. Kinsey-Lamb gained experience working as the education director for a nonprofit in the late 70’s and, with the aid of a colleague and friend, she began laying the groundwork for Mind Builders.
Kinsey-Lamb hired one dance instructor to teach the inaugural class of 45 students. They started meeting in the basement of a local church, and within three months they had a waiting list of almost 100 students. Once the list increased to 300, Kinsey-Lamb began to look for a facility that would meet the growing demand. In 1984, the building on Olinville Avenue was purchased. The building, which was formerly a Yeshiva, was now the burial ground of many dead animals. It had been stripped down, broken and burned. It took three years of renovating before they could occupy the building in 1987 and more than 20 years to complete the latest project. In 2014 a $9 million renovation infused the arts center with new life. Now the four-level state of the art building accommodates 600 students weekly, mainly youth, from The Bronx and the New York metropolitan area.
While the arts center focuses on creative expression, one of its foremost aims is youth development. Mind Builder’s fosters leadership skills, social responsibility, cultural appreciation and self esteem through its music and dance curriculum. It’s not unusual for students to discuss current events or topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement, marriage equality, gay pride, immigration issues, and police brutality. “It’s about developing responsibility in students, building leadership and the awareness of the tremendous power we have,” Kinsey-Lamb says. “We want to motivate students in an environment that is nurturing, challenging, and exciting. Warm yet hardworking, rigorous yet fun.”
Kinsey-Lamb attributes her deep-seated passion for family oriented learning to growing up in “a time of knowing our power and seeing what we had the power to do when we got together.” It was a time when debates on black issues and notable figures like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Olatunji and James Baldwin, were common dinner time talk.
Kinsey-Lamb has even implemented a work exchange program at Mind Builders where parents can work at the center in exchange for free classes. “Little did we know when we started work exchange the benefit that would have. Parents are working right alongside us and when they come up with ideas they lead them. It created such tremendous ownership,” states Kinsey-Lamb. She plans to further its accessibility to the community by using the facility’s cafe to host various family friendly programs and to provide a space where people can meet and grab healthy food items.
Mind Builders will be having an Open House and Street Festival this coming September where people will be able to tour the building, sample the classes, and enjoy various performances.
For more information about how Mind Builders is impacting The Bronx or on how to volunteer there, visit www.mind-builders.org. Better yet, visit the building!