On the outskirts of MacArthur Park and Koreatown, beats can be heard in the distance, luring bystanders to the infectious collective gathered at a Los Angeles church.Nestled in the confines of an 8th Street hum on a warm Thursday, the walls of First Unitarian Church have an air about them that does not sound off as a religious gathering. Instead, Thursday nights belong to the at-risk youth of L.A. As the uplifting vibe seeps through from the entranceway of the stone building, hip-hop enthusiasts gather in part of a non-profit culture program known as Justice by Uniting in Creative Energy.
“Real hip-hop digs into it. It’s about artists inspiring each other in a positive attitude,” said Artistic Director, Dance and DJ Coordinator Marcus Anthony.
B-boying, also known as break dancing, is one of the four elements of hip-hop practiced at the JUICE program on the Thursday sessions. Anthony, who is the most senior staff member of the program with about six years under his belt, has seen a change in the program as well as himself.
“JUICE kept me grounded. It was an instant community,” he added. “It was one of the best things that happened to me.” Formerly a sponsored aggressive inline skater, Anthony tore up his knee and was unable to continue skating. Anthony, who turned to partying and recreational drugs for two years after, straightened up by getting involved in JUICE.
As a PCC student and self-employed repairman, Anthony’s responsibility outside of the program is vital for his duty as a role model. While those around him look for his enthusiasm, Anthony relies on them to continue doing even the most tedious jobs, such as carrying equipment up and down three flights of stairs every week.
“It’s the community, it’s the people. That’s what keeps me going,” Anthony said. “These people, their energy inspires me.”
Founded by Dawn Smith in 2001, JUICE has been a weekly event that young and old can turn as a safe haven to develop their passion for the hip-hop culture. Among other things, the program was developed to deter juvenile crime in the L.A. community.
Walking into the church, several wooden boards are set up for participants to show their artistry. Graffiti art is one of the four elements of hip-hop practiced at the JUICE program on the Thursday sessions.
“The kids who come here have artistic energy. We take the creativity and turn it into a marketable job skill,” said Director Monica X. Delgado. “In school, they may be looked [at] as trouble makers, but when they’re here, they’re star students.”
With the lack of complete social acceptance for the hip-hop culture in today’s society, some may find the program as a deviance itself. However, Delgado and her staff use their 4 to 9 p.m. program as an opportunity to teach participants the four elements of emceeing, b-boying, DJing and graffiti art to refine their respectability.
“There’s a value placed on the way the system was created. There is a value placed on fitting the mold. These kids don’t fit the mold,” explained Delgado, who’s students range from elementary schoolers to middle aged adults.
Being a smaller community coming together for the love of hip-hop, JUICE members share a similar enthusiasm for their craft and engage in each other’s spirit.
“The cool thing about the program is it’s a place to get together and do what they love. It really becomes a community,” said Music Production Coordinator Daniel “Silence” Rizik-Baer.
“JUICE is really diverse and very representative of L.A.” Reaching up to the second level of the church, Rizik-Baer and a group of rhyme-spitters and music-makers reside in a small room that pulses with inspiration.
In a small space upstairs, music enthusiasts gather to practice emceeing or music production. Emceeing is one of the four elements of hip-hop practiced at the JUICE program on the Thursday sessions.
Even with young producers and emcees cramming in this modest all-in-one office, studio and storage space, the creative JUICE flow permeated into their first album “The Danger Room Files: Volume One” and a second album in the works.
“From 4 to 9 on Thursdays, this is our space. We’re making music in here and there’s just a magnetic pull to express,” said Rizik-Baer.
Among some of the frequent participants making their way upstairs, El Camino College student Christopher “L.C.” Givens has found confidence while getting cozy with others in the lab.
“People get together from all walks of life from a hip-hop level. We all relate to that creative expression,” said the 19-year-old Givens.
At JUICE, the general attitude is for staff and participants to mentor each other, trading their creative viewpoints to improve their craft.
“When I first came here, I went straight to the dance floor,” said West L.A. College student Emmanuel Thomas. “When I come and break, it’s like a natural high.”
Thomas, a 20-year-old who has benefited from the give-and-take to satiate his hip-hop endeavors, first visited JUICE on a field trip with the Boys and Girls Club three years ago. He is often found in the main hall where b-boys and turntablists set up shop.
DJ Facilitator and PCC student Joshua “Kenzo” Aldrete spins on the 1s and 2s. DJing is one of the four elements of hip-hop practiced at the JUICE program on the Thursday sessions.
Given the chance to mentor high-spirited individuals like Thomas, DJ Facilitator and PCC student Joshua “Kenzo” Aldrete sees JUICE as a way to build a collective understanding for hip-hop and character.
“Everyone has an idea of culture and their best self. This program helps cultivate that at no cost,” said Aldrete.
Aldrete, a high school dropout and a “knucklehead” growing up, has matured into someone with an instinctive passion for serving his community.
Contributing to the same mentality, JUICE shared the underground art of graffiti in the L.A. area on legal murals, marking the city as its canvas to expose the culture of hip-hop to the uneducated.
Artists from JUICE also competed in the “L.A. versus the Bay Graf Battle” at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival in Oakland on May 17, capturing the title for the third annual. The program has kept active beyond its walls, also hosting the JUICE Hip-Hop Dance Festival at the Ford Amphitheatre on Oct. 4.
Even as the sun set and it passed 9 p.m., it was difficult for participants to break the vibe found in each of the rooms during hours as they continue their exchange of ideas. Only when they are asked to leave do JUICE attendees disperse back to their lives outside of the church.