Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 24 — Théry Badin

A New Perspective

Coming from a strict Caribbean household as a first generation immigrant, 14 year old Théy Badin was a brilliant student. He excelled in subjects like math and science and took part in multiple extracurriculars including STEM camps in the summer and Certamen, a quiz-bowl style game that focused on Latin, Greek, and classical civilizations. Truth be told, Badin only held a faint interest in art, which merely involved doodles in his notebook, comic books, and his affinity for museums.

When Badin’s friends at Boston Latin Academy told him about AFH, he didn’t know what to expect. He was just happy about the prospect of a paying job. “I was like, ‘Oh, somebody’s going to pay me to learn and do [art]? Great!’” Little did he know what his first job would come to mean to him.

“AFH was all I expected and so much more,”

For Badin, AFH played many roles. “It was an introduction to working, an introduction to doing something outside of school, and an introduction to doing something that you’re passionate about,” he said. “The typical immigrant — you’re going to go to college and be an engineer or doctor — I had those blinders on. AFH in a very positive and constructive way removed those.” For Badin, AFH showed him that he could do something different than what he’d always thought he had to be. Still, despite the net positive of the experience, adjusting to the community and culture of AFH took some time.

“[AFH] was very much outside of my initial wheelhouse,” Badin admitted. He recalls the intimidation he felt the first time he stepped foot into the AFH Studio. The first time he arrived at the EpiCenter, there were 30 teens there for an interview and they had a full day of studio afterwards. “Loud music,” he described. “The energy is like over the top. People are doing all sorts of things… think about nerdy Latin/STEM kid — that kind of energy was not something I was used to.”

It took about a week for the intimidation to wear off and for Badin to start feeling at home in the studio. Once he settled in, Badin spent his time in the Painting Studio under Stephen Hamilton’s mentorship. “ [We’re] still close friends to this day,” Badin said proudly.

“[Stephen] struck the perfect balance between an older cousin who you looked up to, the biggest motivator, and also somebody to help you see outside of your immediate purview.”

Badin stresses the profound impact Hamilton had on him and how grateful he is to have had a black male figure as his mentor. As an adult, Badin commends AFH’s choice to use the term ‘mentor’ instead of ‘supervisor.’ “They’re supervising your work, but they really take that mantle of mentoring teens to heart, and you see the difference.”

While Badin often had fun in the studio, the mentors also pushed the teens to improve themselves. “Sometimes you have to produce and push yourself to get better, and sometimes they got hard on you about that stuff… but ultimately it was all for the betterment of each and every one of us.”

“You form such deep friendships and relationships with both your peers and mentors.”

Badin fondly recalls a nickname Hamilton had for him that originated during a competition for who could do the quickest portrait. “We’re all rushing, and [Hamilton] was like, ‘Okay, you’re doing it all wrong. Let me show you how to strike up your portrait in two minutes.’” He then called Badin up to pose and quickly put down some brushstrokes. “Then [Hamilton] was like, ‘Whoa, you could just draw a lemon for your head and then you’re good!’ From then on, it was ‘Lemon Head’!”

Hamilton wasn’t the only mentor who left an impression on Badin. “Swat [Jason Talbot, AFH Deputy Director/Co-Founder] and Rob [Gibbs, Painting Studio Director/Co-Founder]… very big personalities …would stand on one end of the studio and project their voice all the way to the other end,” Badin reminisced, smiling. “They’re all so supportive, and supportive in ways that I think I lot of us, myself included, needed — somebody to encourage your creativity and somebody who would pull you aside after studio hours and just talk about life with you.”

“I think one of the most unique aspects of the organization are the characters and personalities that they’re able to recruit, and beyond all that their consistent dedication across the board.”

Badin remembers one of the first client projects he participated in for a clothing brand named Karma Loop. He recalls preparing a portfolio of different clothing designs. “They came in and reviewed the designs we did for them, which was really cool. In hindsight, mine was very corny,” he admitted, “but to have a shot at doing something like that as a random teen, that’s really cool.”

Badin went on to explain one of his favorite AFH traditions that commenced every Thursday night when they’d have studio cleanup, “Swat or Rob would yell ‘CLEANUP!’ at the top of their lungs, which I felt would shake the whole building,” he started, “and a kid nicknamed Taco would turn the speaker all the way up, and for about 30 minutes while everybody was cleaning up and putting stuff away, it felt like a random party.”

Badin harbors many good memories from his time at AFH, but his proudest moment came when he was applying to colleges. “I needed something to differentiate myself,” he said. “And then Stephen was like, ‘Dude, you have like a whole portfolio of artwork!’” For Badin, AFH and the plethora of work he produced in the Painting Studio was able to showcase a side of him that you couldn’t find in his resume and stats.

“Realizing that I could put together an art portfolio and the fact that I had a body of work… it was kind of like putting my experience at AFH in a 10-slide deck.”

Beyond his own college search, Badin also recalls a staircase where Lesley would post the colleges that AFH teens get into. “You see RISD up there, you see Cooper Union, you see Pratt up there, you see MassArt up there. That’s really freaking cool because by all logic, we weren’t going to make it to those institutions and I think AFH really catapults students into those environments.”

“AFH has a tremendous impact, and I wish more people understood the kind of impact AFH has on young teens… It’s unparalleled.”

After Badin graduated high school in 2014, he attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he double majored in Engineering and Portuguese. “I took art classes in college,” Badin remembers. “It helped a ton with some of my drafting classes for my engineering program, so I’m thankful for that,” he said with a chuckle.

Armed with his experience at AFH, Badin gained a confidence and perspective going into college that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. More than that, he learned to recognize the validity of others’ perspectives no matter their background. “The little microcosm of AFH prepared me really well to thrive in an environment like Dartmouth.”

“AFH made me a better rounded person, and I had that confidence of being better rounded after I left AFH.”

Now Badin works as a Management Consultant and spends much of his free time volunteering with a number of nonprofit organizations that he benefited from when he was younger, including Thrive Scholars and Janie Scholars. Outside of work, Badin also enjoys organizing occasional Paint Nights for his friends. “It’s great, and I kind of wish I could do it as a side gig!” he said excitedly.

Every day in his job and volunteer work, Badin uses the speaking skills that he picked up at AFH. While Badin had ample experience speaking and presenting information when he competed in Science Fairs at school, it was different at AFH. At Science Fairs, Badin would explain his experiment and report his end result to the judges, but at the final summer shows AFH he developed an ability to relate to people.

“At AFH teens learn to talk about not only their work, but themselves, their perspectives, and their reasoning in a very natural way.”

“I think that same skill is exactly what I’m using when I’m doing a presentation to a C level executive now,” Badin says. While he maintains the ability to explain the facts and semantics of a presentation, he also knows how to connect with his audience person to person. “I can try and capture your perspective. I can understand how you see something differently and really navigate and bridge that gap for the two of us,” he said.

If Badin could go back in time and tell his teen self anything, it’d be to, “take more risks, and take a bigger stroke. You have the support around you — if you mess it up your mentor might yell at you for ten seconds or call you out for your picture looking weird, but that’s how you learn.”

Badin believes that AFH supports teens to reach a higher level of success, “As a 16 year old you now have the responsibility of delivering work for a corporate partner and you learn to deliver.” AFH also offered Badin a new perspective and showed him that he could be more than just the science and math kid. “I feel so much cooler now telling people, ‘Yeah I can paint, yeah I can capture that on canvas, yeah I can go to gallery shows and genuinely enjoy it, yeah I can critique art!’” he said proudly. “I think that speaks to a different sense of confidence… Certamen didn’t feel that cool.”

“30 years from now I want to come back and still hear some kid blasting music during studio hours, I still want to see paint on the floor,” Badin said regarding AFH’s 30 year anniversary this year. In the next 30 years, Badin hopes that AFH will continue to nurture the journey and growth of young people and continue to build partnerships, and gain the support and resources that they need. “I’d love to continue staying involved with AFH,” Badin remarked after explaining how he came back as a volunteer after graduating college to tutor teens after their studio work. “And I would love to see ways for them to get more people involved.”

“I’m excited to see how those things continue to happen for the next 30-plus years.”

“I feel like Rob, SWAT, and Susan haven’t aged a day. I see them and I’m like, ’30 years you’ve been doing this? You look the same!’” Badin said. “It’s really exciting to see the ways AFH has changed, and it’s even more exciting to see the ways that AFH has remained consistent.” Badin is impressed with how similar AFH is today compared to when he was a teen in terms of energy and intent. “That’s super difficult to do — to keep the core essence of an organization while still managing to grow and remain sustainable.”

Written by Casey Chiang

CREATIVE JOBS FOR CREATIVE TEENS