Bre’Nae Bullocks-Benard is an eighth grader at Gateway Middle School in San Francisco. She’s passionate about music and theatre and has an affinity for the stage. In the highly competitive arena of school admissions in the Bay Area, Bullocks-Benard has recently been selected to attend the prestigious Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA), San Francisco’s premier high school for the arts.
Bullocks-Benard is more than thrilled that she will engage with the arts so intensely in high school. While she took music in elementary school—she plays the ukulele, piano, and violin and sings—she was unable to continue at her middle school because music classes are not offered.
Enter Bridge to Arts and Music (BAM), an after-school music program for youth at Third Baptist Church in partnership with SFCM, Congregation Emanu-El, and San Francisco Interfaith Council, with support from the Koret Foundation, Yamaha Corporation of America, and Music Exchange. At Third Baptist Church, which is less than two blocks away from Gateway Middle School, Bullocks-Benard has been able to learn from the program’s director, Rev. James Smith, as well as serve as a leader among the other school children who are just starting to learn the basics. It is as if BAM has filled in the gaps in her musical education.
“Since I’m playing the helping role now, and people look up to me, I help them and do the best I can,” she says. “I always try to give [the kids] some encouragement. It’s been real.”
Through studying with Rev. Smith and regularly attending BAM classes, Bullocks-Benard was solidly prepared for her audition at SOTA. She auditioned in musical theatre—one of her favorite musical genres.
“I think high school is going to be filled a lot of opportunities for me to branch out into theatre,” she says. “I’m hoping that I can build my confidence and I’m hoping that I can start a clean slate and learn as much as I can. Being able to grow as a person—I feel like this will be a nice chapter in my life.”
She believes that she ultimately wants to be an actress, but wants a full arts experience to prepare her for her career.
“If you can sing and dance and act, that’s a triple threat. If you can play an instrument, too, that’s a quadruple threat!”
“It’s been wonderful working with Bre’Nae,” says Rev. Smith. “To see her growth from being very shy, to see her progressing with confidence in music is very encouraging.”
Smith is sure that the after-school program has made a large impact on the success of his students, especially, Bullocks-Benard, as they seek further opportunities for creativity.
“Getting a musical foundation with theory and performance, developing stage presence—these are skills that she wouldn’t have possessed had she not been in the BAM program,” he adds.
When asked if she will still work with the BAM program after she enters high school, Bullocks-Benard says that she would be glad to offer anything she learns along the way.
“Sure I’ll help out,” she says. “If I learn outside of BAM, and I can contribute to the education, then why not?”