NYer of the Week: Derrick Little Leads Programs Aimed at Inspiring Teens Affected by Incarceration

A Queens block got a little brighter and more colorful thanks to the latest New Yorker of the Week, who is leading many programs to inspire teenagers affected by incarceration. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.

By turning a brick wall into a work of art, a group of young New Yorkers are transforming their futures.

A 77-foot mural in Queens reflects the experiences of these teenagers impacted by incarceration.

"My part of the wall is written for my mother," says participant Nathalie Gomez. "How hard she’s worked to support me and my little sister, how hard she’s still working, how she gives us everything that we need.”

It’s all part of the teen program at Hour Children. The nonprofit works to end the cycle of intergenerational incarceration through different support services.

Leading the mural project is volunteer and accomplished artist Derrick Little.

"Putting something beautiful where there was once a ugly brick wall," Derrick says. "Just for them to physically really see and experience is a really powerful thing, and to be able to come back and say, 'I did that.'"

As a teen, Derrick felt like he didn’t belong. Art gave him hope and a new community.

"Left home, left a very rough high school, a place where I didn’t really fit in. And I actually sort of started finding myself by being able to express myself through art. It empowered me," he says.

Today, Derrick empowers and mentors dozens of teens from Long Island City. Every week, he draws on his personal experience to teach students kindness and perseverance, and that it's OK to make mistakes.

"I was like a very dry person. Like, I just said a couple of words and then that was it," Nathalie says. "Now, I actually have full open-ended conversations with people. It’s changed me a lot in a good way."

Derrick has become a role model and a friend.

"He's always shown that he cares for us, that he wants us to do better," says participant Rafael Viera. "It influences me to be a better person. Never give up, keep trying."

"As we say in Hour Children, love makes the difference. What you do is important, but when you add love into it, then that’s when you're able to make impact and change people’s lives," says Jeffrey Smith, a development associate with Hour Children. "And Derrick has really done that."

So, for helping teens leave a positive mark on their community, Derrick Little is the latest New Yorker of the Week.

For more information about the organization, visit hourchildren.org.

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