She’s showing youth how they can create ‘beauty out of pain’

Dorchester resident and Berklee College of Music professor Chantel Hampton is surrounded by Express Yourself “ALIVE” youth during a break in rehearsals for their May 21 performance at the Boch Center-Wang Theater.  
Roger Farrington photo

Chantel Hampton believes her calling is to help others achieve what she calls their “signature lives” — in other words, help them discover what they were meant to do.

“My whole purpose is to help young people and people in general understand their purpose, and understand that you can all live a successful life by the values and the standards you create for yourself,” she said in a recent interview.

The versatile recording artist, songwriter, and educator was born and raised on Gallivan Boulevard in Dorchester, beginning her musical journey in Mattapan as a member of the choir at what was then the New Covenant Christian Center and is now the Jubilee Christian Church.

Hampton went on to earn a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music, where she is now a professor.

Now 30, she was recently invited to be a guest artist in “ALIVE,” an annual show produced by Express Yourself, a local arts immersion program that teaches underserved kids from Boston and North Shore communities about using creative self-expression as a healthy, positive outlet.
The group of 150 – ages 5 to 21 – is now rehearsing for the 24th edition of the show on May 31 at the Boch Center-Wang Theater. The show features a variety of music and dance performances, including two songs led by Hampton on lead vocals.

Roger Farrington, a communications consultant for Express Yourself (ExYo), said the synergy between Hampton and the youth performers was palpable from the first rehearsal. “The kids immediately warmed up to Chantel – they are not always easy to work with – and joined in singing with her,” he noted. “All the ExYo staff noticed her chemistry with the kids.”

For her part, Hampton said she also felt an immediate connection. “It was amazing,” she said. “We literally gravitated to each other instantly.”

Express Yourself is the only program in the state funded by the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Mass Cultural Council. A large majority of the youth in the program are identified as having a disability; many are in residential inpatient care; and some face the threat of neighborhood violence on a daily basis. Hampton said she relishes the opportunity to work with kids and inspire a creative spark.

“Often, kids get labeled as troubled youth, but I don’t see them as troubled,” she said. “I think they’re just kids who have troubles,” she explained. “What we’re doing together is working around those troubles to produce beauty out of pain. If I can be part of that inspiration and allow them to see a different side of struggle, that can bring light to their lives...it’s all about saying ‘I’m gonna live productively, I’m not gonna let that cause me to feel defeated.’”

This is Hampton’s first collaboration with Express Yourself, but she said she’s already seen similarities between the kids in the program and those she’s worked with in the past through organizations like the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club and Berklee’s City Music program.

“I see how inspired and excited they are about being able to perform and see something that they’ve worked at coming alive,” she said. “So often with kids, once they’re able to focus in on something creative, they flourish. There’s just something about it that allows them to see how good they are at something, and that can have a huge impact.


“It’s very, very rewarding,” she added. “Just that time with them means the world.”

“ALIVE” will be performed at the Boch Center-Wang Theater on Thurs., May 31 at 7 p.m. The show is free and open to the public. For more information, visit exyo.org.