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“The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a by-product. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.”

Dana Gioia, American poet

Emmett Phillips, Jr. is a writer, musician, performer, and above all, a changemaker. He brings theater, creative writing and music programs to kids in Des Moines who might not otherwise have access to these creative outlets.

“I’ve spent most of my adult life in the field of arts and education,” said Phillips. “I’m a poet, hip-hop artist, band member, actor and educator. I’ve found a way to take these talents, cultivate them and teach to youth all across Des Moines and even out of the state.”

The child of Liberian immigrants, Phillips attributes his work ethic to his parents’ influence. “I came into this world with a strong sense of purpose and duty. I grew up here in Des Moines and my parents did a lot to get us here. I always knew it was up to me to carry the torch and make something of myself.” 

Speak Your Peace is Born

Phillips has mastered the art of using the arts to create positive change for kids in his community. In April 2020, Phillips took his programs to a new level and founded Speak Your Peace, LLC. His mission is to improve lives and uplift communities through arts education and consulting. His services include creative writing workshops, art performances, creative consulting and public speaking engagements.   

“Essentially I’ve taken my passions for arts and education and consolidated them into a business,” explained Phillips. “My intent was to give kids the gift that comes in the arts. Not necessarily to make them artists, but to give them the self-esteem, self-expression and the boost in confidence and communication skills that I know they can apply anywhere in their lives.

“I found that things like theater exercises and hip-hop workshops help bring out some of the best qualities in our young people.”

The Strength of an Arts Education 

Many studies have supported the necessity of arts education in a well-rounded curriculum. A two-year study conducted by the Arts Education Partnership found that students who were exposed to the arts (including music, drama, theater, dance and art) perform better in math, reading and writing and are better able to collaborate, interpret complex texts, organize their writing, and have a greater capacity for problem-solving and analyzing situations. 

James Catteral, an education professor at the University of California- Los Angeles who coordinated the study, said the research also suggests that arts education may be especially beneficial to poor students and those in need of extra development. 

Phillips can speak directly to the benefits of art education. 

“The importance of arts education can’t be said enough,” he stated. “It really can bring out some of the great traits that can lay dormant in kids. I found that some kids don’t excel in the standard and rigor of schools today and it can really lower their confidence when they feel like they’re not strong readers or not great at math. 

“A lot of these kids have talent that can help them feel like they’re good at something and that can be a point for them to experience some success. I believe when kids start winning small victories – completing a song, completing a play, participating in something that makes them uncomfortable – it helps build up more resilience and more momentum. They can start getting more wins and successes in other areas of their lives. 

“I’m proud to say I’ve been able to see that process take place. I’ve seen kids that are quiet as a mouse in class become confident enough to speak in front of audiences. The transformation is real and it’s an amazing thing to facilitate.”

Phillips is currently running a theater and performing arts program in Oakridge in conjunction with the Oakridge Neighborhood. Last summer, he worked with the kids in the program to produce a music video that allowed them to address the social and political turmoil of the last year in a fun and easy-to-understand way. 

Phillip’s music video with the kids in the Oakridge Neighborhood arts program.

Phillips is also teaching a hip-hop writing and literacy workshop at The Good Vibes Movement, a local nonprofit yoga studio that holds a weekly food drive and facilitates youth programs for the arts, skills development and athletics.   

“Things have been really great and it feels really good to give back to the community that has helped raise me up,” said Phillips. “It feels like home to be here.”

C21 Impact Offers Support

The past year has been tough for most business owners, let alone those just starting off. 

“I’m used to working with a large number of kids so COVID-19 really impacted a lot of my potential growth in my first year,” explained Phillips. “I was really really hoping to find some way to get more support for what I’m doing.”

Phillips’s work and programs were brought to the C21 Impact Committee by board member Chris Chiaramonte, who is active in social programs in the River Bend neighborhood. Chiaramonte worked with Phillips on community initiatives and knew his work needed the support of the C21 Impact Committee. 

“I truly believe that people like [Emmett] are the people who are going to create real, lasting changes,” said Chiaramonte. “He is the definition of someone who is impacting and improving the lives of others, someone whose entire existence is to help other people. His passion and energy are incredibly unique.”

C21 Impact is CENTURY 21 Signature Real Estate’s nonprofit organization and provides an opportunity for C21SRE agents and staff to pool resources to directly impact and improve the lives of people and families in the local communities. 

Phillips’ dedication to the kids in his community and the work he puts into arts education resonated with Impact’s philosophy of giving back to the community. The committee donated $5,000 to help Phillips grow his business and continue to create change in Des Moines neighborhoods that need it the most. 

“The Impact funds will go toward my business development,” said Phillips. “Anyone who owns a business knows the day-to-day maintenance can be overwhelming. I still work in the community and keep a job to help support myself and my business. But the foundation, the maintenance and expansion are exactly what I want to invest the funds in. I’ve spent my life being boots-on-the-ground in the community doing the work. But without support like this, it can be hard to stay afloat.”   

The Beat Goes On

As restrictions ease and the demand for youth community programs grows, Phillips has stayed busy with new opportunities. 

“Since I started my business in April 2020, right in midst of COVID-19, I’ve been able to work with a few clients, such as Iowa 4-H,” he said. “A few college professors have reached out to me for help developing curriculums and programs. I’m just getting started and the impact is already being felt. I’m really looking forward to growing and expanding and reaching more people.”

To learn more about Emmett Phillips Jr., Speak Your Peace, LLC., and the arts education programs he provides for local youth, go to speakyourpeacellc.com

Here at Century 21 Signature Real Estate, we’ve made it our purpose to do more than just sell real estate. Our C21 Impact program is an opportunity for C21SRE agents and staff to pool our resources and directly impact and improve the lives of people and families in our communities. The Impact fund is made up of donations from our agents and staff with a 10% match from the C21SRE company. The Impact Board Committee is made up of the broker/owners, six agents, one staff member, and a treasurer. Board members vote on how to distribute funds to local people and families in need and all funds go directly to the chosen recipients. Learn more at https://www.iowac21career.com/impact/