Performer Ben Vereen Advocates Wellness Via the Arts September 17, 2015 08:20

He’s a Broadway, TV and Hollywood legend who’s still singing and acting his way across the stage and screen. But Ben Vereen is also an evangelist for teen wellness, preaching to audiences about using the arts to help young people cope with obesity, diabetes, bullying and low self-esteem.

Earlier this month, Vereen brought his Wellness Through the Arts campaign to Sacramento, talking with students, educators and arts activists at the Natomas Charter School’s Performing and Fine Arts Academy, a public high school campus where he’s launching his first Northern California initiative.

“I’m worried about America’s youths,” said Vereen, adding that teens are confronted by a barrage of unhealthy images and behaviors on TV, social media and in their communities. “The arts are a way to show a creative connection that’s positive … constructive rather than destructive.”

Vereen’s program started in 2013 and expanded with outlets in San Diego and Tucson, Ariz. His message is that teens need a healthy outlet to express themselves through the arts, whether it’s dance, singing, music or art.

Aside from encouraging teens to participate in the arts, the primary piece of Wellness Through the Arts is an annual essay contest, called “The Moment I Changed My Life for the Better.” Teens dealing with bullying, obesity, diabetes or other issues describe in a two-page essay or two-minute video something they did to improve their lives. (In the case of San Diego County, the top five winners each receive $500.) The winning entrants are teamed with artistic collaborators at their high school, who put their words into music, a play or other performance.

“When kids see their work has value,” said Vereen, “it gives them a sense of worth.” He said getting the essays and videos a wider audience helps teens realize “they’re not alone.”