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WASHINGTON — The District is still coping with the mass shooting that happened at a cookout in Southeast D.C. Sunday.

D.C. Police said 22 people were shot and a 17-year old father was killed.

Last month, D.C. averaged one killing a day, according to D.C. Crime Data. An 11-year-old and a four-year-old were included in those staggering statistics. It’s created a traumatic environment many young people are growing up in across D.C.  

Niamca Cooper,15, has been a participant with Project Create. She’s now an intern with the program. 

“It’s like a safe space for everyone, you know,” Cooper said.

It’s through art Cooper faces the challenges of life. 

“It really helps me to get my emotions out in a healthy secure way,” she added. 

She doesn’t always like to talk about some of the troubles she’s faced. So she unbottles her emotions with art therapy at Project Create.  

“We combine art therapy with arts education, and just a really positive healthy environment for children and youth and families to come together in a safe environment, create art and work towards healing,” said Christie Walser, the Executive Director of Project Create.

Their research found that 47% of children experience an adverse childhood experience. 

“In D.C., 22% of DC children have had two or more adverse childhood experiences,” Walser added.

Project Create lives just east of the river in Anacostia on Martin Luther King Boulevard. An area that at times faced with unique challenges due to socioeconomic issues and ultimately traumatically affecting children. 

“We know that excessive and prolonged stress caused by trauma can change the hormonal balance in the developing brain and body,” Walser said.

Diarra McKinney, one of the board members with Project Create and D.C. native, recognizes how programs like this can change the trajectory for families who may not otherwise find value in the arts. 

“I think that it’s extremely important for Black communities to focus on the breadth of experience and helping to round out their children’s experience,” said McKinney. “I think minority communities, a lot of times are suspicious of art, and we don’t necessarily see the value in it; but I think it’s extremely valuable.”

Cooper will continue to intern with the program and learning more about her craft. She hopes to encourage other families to consider this form of therapy. 

“If you’re not really a person who can express their emotions, for whatever reason, then maybe you need to find some sort of hobby some sort of creative thing that you can do to help them with that,” Cooper said.

The art therapy programs offered by Project Create are free and they’re led by trained art therapists. They’re also offering virtual options during the pandemic.