Youth wins national talent competition

J.T. won for a rap song he wrote while at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility.

Story by H.P., youth at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility

A youth at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility won this year’s national Kids Got Talent competition, sponsored by Performance-based Standards (PbS). The youth, J.T., won for a rap song he wrote about his difficult relationship with his mother.

This is the fifth time youth from Rogue Valley have won the competition, which is open to all teenagers nationwide who are in facilities or programs that use PbS. PbS is a data-driven improvement process for juvenile justice facilities, community residential programs, and re-entry services.

“We don’t always participate, but in the years we have, we brought a win back to Rogue Valley,” said Steve Mounce, a qualified mental health professional (QHMP) at Rogue Valley. “Kids have talent but need guidance and adults to speak into their lives. To be a mentor is to be an influence on them.  We were fortunate to have a facility and superintendent who supported music during these years.”

Also, a youth at Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility was a finalist in the competition for their song “Weather Ambassador.” The youth, A.D., wrote the song while in detention at the Donald E. Long juvenile facility in Multnomah County. The song was part of a science class where the students collected weather data in partnership with Portland’s National Weather Service.

J.T., the first-place winner, wrote and performed a song called “Leave a Message.”  The song was about his concerns over his mother and her addictive lifestyle. Here are some lyrics from his song:

You used to give me hope

But now every time I say your name it makes me choke

Running from the pain to chase a smoke

It’s been years since the last time that we spoke

I hide all my emotions, turn my pain into a joke

Cuz I don’t want the world to see me weak

I don’t wanna be the kid that’s always sad and everybody calls a freak

All I ever wanted was your love, but you kept it out of reach

You left me victim to my pain so I went running to the streets.

“Music has been a therapy for me to help me talk about the deep trauma behind my mother being absent and our toxic relationship,” J.T. said. “Music has helped me move forward with my life and grow to be better by expressing the emotions I can’t just sit down and talk about.”

“I haven’t had contact with my mom in three and a half years,” he continued. “The name ‘Leave a Message’ comes from me calling her and always being left to leave a message at the tone. The song is my way of relaying the message or words I would have spoken had she picked up. I wrote the song to put it out there so if she heard it, she knew what I have to say.”

J.T. said he plans to do a lot with music and further his journey in the music industry. He said that making music was not about winning contests. It was about expressing himself and morphing his emotions into words and a beat and getting things off his chest.

A staff member suggested that J.T. enter the contest, and J.T. said, “Why not? It’s a chance to get my music out there and be heard, and maybe help others with their pent-up emotions they have yet to deal with.”

J.T. has a dream of building a studio for teenagers who are dealing with a lot and don’t have the opportunities or support they need. He wishes to give them an outlet to not turn to gangs or drugs like many others have, including himself.

I myself have also found music and poetry to be my escape in tough or high-risk situations. I have found my art, along with J.T., and understand the importance of music to struggling youth. I have never seen someone prosper and make as much of a change in people’s lives as J.T. He has not only helped me find myself on this journey called life, but also so many others who have also come through this facility.

About the author: H.P. is a 16-year-old who lives at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility in Grants Pass. He graduated from high school in June 2022 and is working on his associate degree at Rogue Community College.

(Top photo by Caught In Joy on Unsplash)

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