Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”
Edition 27 — Nyviana Colon
A Ripple Effect
One day in class, Nyviana Colon observed the Tweety Bird printed on the front of her agenda book. Bored with the lesson at hand, she decided to try drawing it. Her sketch came out better than she’d expected — she’d discovered that she had a knack for duplicating what she saw in life onto paper. As a theater major at Boston Arts Academy, Colon was already an artist, but AFH helped to expand her abilities.
“I’m an all around multi-purpose artist… Any form of art, if I put my mind to it, I’m going to kill it — no matter what it is. I’ve always been creative.”
Colon heard about AFH through friends from school, and remembers the first time they brought her to the studio so she could introduce herself and sign up for the program. When they got there, Colon spotted Painting Studio Director/Co-Founder Rob Gibbs among cans of paint in the back of the studio. “Rob had dreads and he was on a ladder,” she fondly recalled, “And I was told, ‘Have your mother sign the paperwork and you can start tomorrow!’”
What drew Colon to AFH was how colorful and diverse it was. “Everybody there was different, so when I was there I didn’t feel different. I felt like it was the place for me,” she said. “There’s a freedom to be yourself and a freedom to express your true self, and it was nice to be around like minded folks.”
“AFH is a welcoming and freeing environment that I’ve learned to keep with me.”
Though Colon had doodled and sketched before, her first time painting was in AFH’s Painting Studio. She remembers her very first piece. “It was a joker splashing cards,” she said. “And the way it came out, it was like, wow I did that? That came from me? And then I continued painting and everything just got better.”
While Gibbs was her official mentor, Colon enjoyed learning from all the mentors at AFH. “When I was there there was SWAT [Jason Talbot], Ferb [Damon Butler], Rob… Even though you had your mentor, all of them mentored you,” she explained. “If Ferb walked by and he saw me struggling, he would help me and he would guide me. It was really dope to learn different techniques from each and every one of them.”
“[Without AFH], I don’t even know where I would be, to be honest. And it’s not just AFH and what they provided, it was the people that helped to provide it. That made a difference in my life.”
“[AFH] focuses on working with inner city kids and giving us the things that we are not normally exposed to,” Colon reflected. “Being around people… that were born and raised in situations like yourself — it was easier for me to stay around and learn from people who I can relate to.” Colon was grateful that the program was available to her and others in similar situations as otherwise it would be extremely difficult for parents to afford special after school classes for their kids. “To have this nonprofit be centered around inner city kids is amazing.”
When Colon graduated high school in 2003, things were difficult for her. “I had a child in the ninth grade, and I didn’t really have too much guidance from my parents or anything like that,” she said. “So right after high school, I jumped into adulthood. My kid was about four years old and I had my first apartment at 19.” As a young adult, Colon really missed her time at AFH and the freedom it gave her to explore. She felt like she was missing a sense of balance and direction in her life. That was until Colon returned to AFH in her young 20s.
Through a previous AFH program for adults, Colon got her life back on track. “The program as an adult really did a great number on me. It really structured my life for the better,” she said. The adult program, which paid an hourly minimum wage, continued to hone Colon’s art skills and taught her other professional skills such as making connections and networking. Not only that, but it also reinvigorated Colon’s belief in herself.
“Learning punctuality, time management, financial literacy, and all the things I unfortunately did not learn at home, stemmed from AFH.”
Colon reminisced on an art exhibition the adult program had set up for them. “The self-portraits that I created and the people who came and supported me by seeing the art was my proudest moment,” she said. With the confidence and talents she developed at AFH, Colon still occasionally takes out paint and a canvas to create. “If I feel a great attachment to somebody or a situation, I’ll paint something for them.”
Through the AFH adult program, Colon also learned about Year Up, an organization with a mission to provide the skills and support young adults need to reach their potential. “After I did AFH and Year Up, it really structured and guided my life for the better,” Colon said. “I had more support, I had more guidance, I had more people to talk to and more people saying, ‘Hey, I’m proud of you.’ It changed my life!”
“Ever since I did AFH and then I went on to Year Up, it’s just been success after success, accomplishment after accomplishment.”
Now, Colon works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as an Equipment Secretary and Unit Coordinator, having recently reduced her hours to part time to give her children more focus. Colon has also opened up an LLC to teach aerial yoga. “I turned my living room into a private studio,” she said. “When COVID hit, it was perfect because it was all one on one, and then when we were able to do groups, I did groups of five.” Colon has also begun traveling to teach in other states and hold pop up classes.
Colon believes that AFH’s possibilities are truly endless and that the organization has the ability to manifest greatness. “It’s wonderful,” she said regarding AFH’s 30 year anniversary.
“I can’t wait till they say it’s the 60 year anniversary of AFH, or that it’s been around for 200 years.”
“Everyday was a favorite memory,” Colon said, reminiscing on her time at AFH. “It was that whole era … everything that you love is all around you.”
If Colon could go back in time, she’d tell her teen self, “Stick with it, stay connected, and use your resources. Don’t be fooled by people who aren’t heading in the same direction you see your life going. Know that people in that building are there for you, they’re there to help.” As she spoke, Colon paused and sniffled. “I wish I didn’t have a gap between graduating high school and then going back to [AFH] in my 20s, but I’m grateful for that moment.”
“I think the whole experience was important for someone like myself to go through,” Colon remarked. “I appreciated it.” As the interview drew to a close, Colon had one final thing to say. “Susan [Rodgerson, Founding Executive/Artistic Director], thank you,” she laughed, “SWAT, Ferb, Rob continue being great. And everybody who has learned from them — you know its a ripple effect — keep it flowing!”
Written by Casey Chiang