When Edwin Almonte first steps foot into the room, you can just feel the warmth of an old soul radiating off of him. He is confident and comfortable with an honest smile.
He joined The Door, one of Variety New York’s grantees, after hearing about it from his friend in September of 2015, but he never imagined that he would be entering a whole new world. Born in the Dominican Republic, Edwin moved to the United States at the age of 9. Leaving his mother behind, he says was one of the hardest things he had ever done. He came to live with an aunt and his cousins without ever having met them before. The move was earth shattering, from the new culture to the language. He had always been a good student and a quick learner so it did not take long for him to adjust academically. Though dealing with loneliness was particularly challenging to Edwin.
Edwin believes that becoming a young adult is difficult no matter where you come from, but you are never given anything you cannot handle. He says that coming to terms with the fact that he liked boys and he never dressed the same as his peers was like a weight being lifted off his shoulders. It was okay that he was different.
When asked why he came to The Door, he simply states, “I wanted to find a good use of time”. He had already graduated from High School the previous year and decided to take a year off in life, as he put it, to try and figure out where he wanted to go. He was 17 at the time, and never wants to be 17 again. He did not know what to expect. With hundreds of other youth and young adults at The Door, between the ages of 12 and 24, it was easy to feel even the slightest bit overwhelmed. He immediately felt like he was back in High School with the same loneliness creeping up again.
Edwin gained some perspective when he reminded himself why he went to The Door in the first place. He wanted to better himself. To do things that he wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. His face lights up when talking about his experiences at The Door. He explains, “I knew it would be a great place if I stayed focused.” Of The Door, he says, “Being here, there are things that I didn’t know I could do, like painting.”
He smiles when he remembers the day his teacher said, “paint.” He decided to try it out and ended up crying afterwards. His newfound confidence and pride overwhelmed him. It was surreal. To be able to see and convey so many emotions in the form of art was an indescribable feeling for him. He was even more elated when he sold his art for commission at The Door.
He describes that one of his favorite parts of joining The Door is the fact that there is no judgment there. If you need help or you want some advice, the staff are there for you. “The people at The Door aren’t like our parents. Parents always push the way they see life onto how you should live, the staff won’t push their life onto you.” He knows that to be happy, you have to pick something you love. He appreciates that adults at The Door do their best to help the youth but ultimately let them decide for themselves what they want to do. He mentions the amazing assistance The Door provides for some of the homeless youth he knows. “I think it’s so important for young people to have this kind of space.”
Edwin has not limited his amazing talent to just painting. He is broadening his horizons and began playing the guitar. He’s also starting to do vocals and began basic training in ballet. Recently, he had his first singing performance and was overjoyed that he wasn’t nervous. Additionally, with some help from the staff at The Door, he received and just recently accepted an internship at Museo Del Barrio. The internship not only offers Edwin a new opportunity, but also a look at potential careers that support the arts. He admits, “I had no idea that there were so many things that go on with running a museum.”
Of course, settling on a definite career path is a little ways off for Edwin. Right now, participating at The Door and making art, is what he feels he needs to be doing. His art helps to keep the things that happened to him in his past. He uses his art to take his negative experiences and put them all on canvas or in song. “I know that I’m going to continue music. I don’t know what I’m going to do in the next year or 5 years from now but I’m still figuring it out.”
Exposure to the arts has given Edwin new perspectives on life. After a contemplative pause he says, “Sometimes, life roughs you up, but I’m very proud of the choices I’ve made. My love for art and music came with all of the dysfunction in my life and it helped me through it.”
Most of his art are self-portraits and at first he was apprehensive to show anyone his work. It was too raw, too fresh and too personal. All of that seemed to melt away and even now, the delight that glows on his face is marvelous. Edwin says that seeing his inner self on paper releases any negativity he has held onto all these years.
“I’m not doing art for other people, but it is nice for me to do something that I find helpful and also help someone else. I can show them things are possible.”
With wisdom beyond his years he states, “You don’t have to be an artist to make art, you have to make art to be an artist.” The work and the effort are what make you who you are, not the circumstance.
With just a paintbrush and a microphone, Edwin is changing his future and inspiring others to do the same.