Our inspirational individual this week is Michael Prosserman, Founder and Executive Director of the chariy UNITY!
Michael Prosserman aka “Bboy Piecez” truly knows how to turn a passion into a calling. Michael discovered at a young age that dance was the perfect way to channel his energy, both positive and negative. By age 3 he was doing headstands in front of the TV, and by high school he was travelling the world as one of Canada’s top break-dancers, going on to compete globally against many of the world’s top break-dancers, and taking the top spot in over 22 competitions. From competitive titles to charitable ones, Michael is now known as the Founder and Executive Director of UNITY Charity, an organization that helps youth through the power of the arts, guiding them into becoming to be role models and leaders in their communities through after school programs in Break Dancing, Graffiti Art, Spoken Word Poetry & Beat Boxing.
Recently, UNITY launched a series of eight weekly community programs across the GTA geared towards at-risk youth. The programs feature free drop-ins teaching hip-hop art forms to youth, in partnership with Tangerine, that are based in Toronto, Scarborough and Mississauga. These programs will combine all elements of hip-hop that focus on building skills through peer-to-peer mentorship and artistic performance. The community drop-in programs for the 2016 season will include topics such as MC and Turntable foundations, the basics of break dancing and beat boxing battles, musicality, physical wellness, and cultural context.
How did you get involved with the work you currently do?
When I was younger I used to walk down the stairs on my hands. I loved walking around my house upsidedown. This strange talent led me to joining a gymnastics class and later finding Bboying (also known in the media as break dancing). As I was growing up Bboying was my outlet for stress and anger as a teenager. I decided I wanted to give the outlet of hip hop to other young people so I started UNITY in my grade 11 entrepreneurship class. We kept going with it over the past 8 years and never looked back. I am still active in the international bboy community but my new focus is spreading the community programs at UNITY giving safe space to youth.
What is your WHY?
UNITY gives youth safe space to express their stress. When I was a teen I was pretty stressed out but bottled it up inside. My mom was battling with a mental illness and I grew up faster than some of my friends around me because of this. When I found Bboying I could just express all the pent up frustration in my body in a healthy way and focus on school and life. Bboying was my safe space. This is the same safe space we are trying to provide for other youth who need that outlet. This is why UNITY is so excited to expand our Community programs to many more locations this year with the support of Tangerine, our lead partner in this program.
What are the biggest challenges/set backs you’ve had to face?
The journey for growing UNITY and my personal Bboy career was not easy. What helped us tackle the many challenges we have faced along the way is the strong team that UNITY has. We have an incredible group of artists, staff, board members and supporters who allow our work to be possible. Everything from HR to Finance to Program logistics challenges we have been able to overcome with the right people, hard work and perseverance. We have learned to innovate quickly to respond to the needs of communities but also change when there is something not working. I like to use the analogy that sometimes we are on the right track but on the wrong train.
Personally I’ve faced a chronic neck injury when I was 18 years old. I found out I had 3 fused vertebrates in my neck which stopped me from Bboying for several years. I never let this hold me back and reinvented my dance style to be able to still do what I love. I try not to let the barriers in my life stop me from living my life. Even if it pains me at times I need to live my life to it’s full potential. Youth in UNITY programs build resilience over the years to take on the world.
What are some of the successes (big or small) you’ve had?
The years have been filled with successes and great challenges. To me the biggest successes are the people. The youth we serve and everything they have done since coming through our programs. I am so proud to see young people graduating high school, post secondary and getting jobs they are passionate about. It’s rare to do something you love but I’ve seen countless youth grow up and have the skills to deal with the challenges life throws. Each young person who is doing well to me is a success.
If you had one wish to help make the world a better place, what would it be?
My one wish is to have all youth have equal opportunity to realize their full potential and live a fulfilled life.
Many barriers hold young people back from realize the fire they have within.
I wish for a world where every young person can realize they are truly great.
If you could pick one charitable organization to ask our readers to donate to or volunteer with, which would it be?
When I donate money and time I look for grassroots organizations with real vision and strong leadership. The Canadian organizations I believe the most strongly in include: Blueprint For Life, Ill Abilities / RAD, UNITY, Graffiti Gallery, and RISE. I am proud to have these groups as friends and mentors.