Akeem Flowers works at the nonprofit Playworks, which aims to change school culture by offering programming for youth from under-resourced communities.
Location: Boston, MA
Job: Program Manager, Playworks
Education: Theater Arts, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
My first real job was as an usher for Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas. Taking classes full-time while working there for over 34 hours a week definitely taught me how to multi-task. I also realized how much I love interacting with different people during the work day. I carried those lessons with me into my current role at Playworks, where a family friend referred me. I learned at a young age to treat people the way you want to be treated, because you never know when you might need to ask someone for a favor.
At Playworks, we aim to change school culture by offering services for youth from under-resourced communities. Our emphasis is on play – from recess and afterschool programming, to sports, games, and more. I manage our programming at several schools in the Boston area. My visits include reviewing how the school program coordinators are doing and giving them feedback to help them grow. During my visits, I also play with students and showcase safe and healthy play, which is a cornerstone of our mission. I, along with the program coordinators and school staff I support, model and encourage conflict resolution, positive sportsmanship, and responsibility throughout the school day.
I wish I had told myself to embrace my strengths. I love playing tricks on people, joking around, and making up games. If you had told me when I was a kid that my career would incorporate all of those things, I would have said you were crazy. But, I actually do spend a lot of my time coming up with fun games, running around with kids, cracking jokes, wearing costumes, (and even sometimes a fanny pack). All of these aspects of my personality help me succeed at work. I’d advise anyone just starting out in their career to take a look at what makes them great and build on that.
I plan my upcoming week every Friday using Google calendar as well as my daily planner. This way, if something comes up and needs to be changed, I can do it from the office or on-site at one of my schools. At the end of each week, I also reflect on things that went really well and things I need to work on and change going forward. With this in mind, I set new goals every week. Typically, I try to figure out which one of my coaches needs the most support and how I can get to their school for a site visit as soon as possible.
I joined Playworks in 2012 as a program coordinator. I organized games before, during, and after school. Over time, I created a place for every kid on the playground to feel included, be active, and build valuable social and emotional skills.
Years later, on my last day as a program coordinator (before I assumed the role of program manager), all of the kids at my school surprised me with cards. That day, I got over 300 hand-written cards that I will keep for the rest of my life. The teachers also got me a gift card to Broadway.com, knowing how much I love theater and Broadway. I was overwhelmed. It was extremely powerful to see the impact I had made at that school, and it was hard for me to leave. I am so proud of the progress those students have made and honored that I could play a role in their success.
Before moving to Boston, I worked for a live-action stunt company in Las Vegas, putting on gladiator shows. We practiced once a week and I learned how to use different weapons including: sword, trident/net, shield, and spear. We worked on choreographing all of the moves for the show, making sure the audience felt like they were part of the experience.
Putting on these wild performances (shockingly) prepared me extremely well for my current day-to-day work. When working with kids, Playworks coaches are like ringleaders. We have to get them excited, bring them into the action, and make them comfortable. We amp up the energy and, in a sense, put on a show each and every day. I’d advise people never to discount any experience; you never know how it will come into play later on in life.
At Playworks, the first round interview consists of candidates coming in for a group game interview. During this process, each applicant is asked to lead a game so we can get a sense of the applicant's group management skills, “coach voice,” and facilitation skills. I look for people who have a strong presence in the room, enthusiasm, and confidence.
I’m a huge fan of the soundtrack to Broadway's Hamilton - the story about an immigrant working his way up the ladder in America. I was born in Belize and immigrated to the states when I was young. The story about a man who is “just like [his] country young, scrappy, and hungry” really resonates with me. I actually incorporated the show into a lesson plan for some of my students. I wanted them to see that, with hard work, they can achieve whatever they want in life. If Alexander Hamilton – an impoverished orphan immigrant – can impact the world, so can I, and so can they.
Do what you want to do in life. The world is your playground, so go play!
Images courtesy of Akeem Flowers