Bay area talent shines bright in ‘The Family Blessing’

BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –Artz 4 Life Academy and Bright House Networks joined forces to bring the 18th annual holiday production now entitled “The Family Blessing” to the Mahaffey Theater Dec. 19-20. The cast of 65 performers delivered a highly charged performance that received several standing ovations.

Bay News 9 anchor Erica Riggins introduced Jai Hinson, executive producer and director of “The Family Blessing,” to the audience with a proclamation from Mayor Rick Kriseman.  Likewise, Bay News 9’s Trevor Pettiford and City Councilmember Steve Kornell presented her with a proclamation recognizing her achievements in the Bay area over the last 21 years.

“The Family Blessing” centers on how a young boy’s dream search for a happy home leads to the revelation that he had “the blessing” all along at home, with family and community. Jeloni Parks, an eight-year-old third grader from Fairmount Park Elementary, stepped in as the lead male protagonist and amazed audiences in both performances. His energy was contagious as it spilled out of every cast member that stepped out on stage.

“I think my favorite scene is Africa because I get to do a little different moves that I didn’t know how to do before,” said Jeloni, who feels the dances were easier to learn.

He doesn’t just dazzle on the dance floor, he is the top reader and second top math student in his class.

Jeloni is well on his way to follow in the footsteps of his co-star Adia Hollist, a junior at Blake High School of the Arts in Tampa. The 16-year-old dancer is also an advanced placement honors student who is a member of the National High School Association of Scholars and National Junior Honor Society for Dance Arts.

“I actually got started when I was three years old because one of my mother’s coworkers suggested that I should do this show because I have this crazy personality,” said Adia, a 13-year-veteran cast member who joined when they were performing the “Chocolate Nutcracker.”

The gifted performer was not sold on the idea at first. “At first I was scared to do it, but through the years I’ve adopted more to it,” she said.

Adia shared what keeps her coming to the production year after year. “We kind of build a family and they’re kind of all good about it. You get to see everyone’s strengths and their weaknesses and build their strengths and they can help you with your weaknesses and build with your strengths as well. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to work together…and we just create a family, literally!”

She feels that working with a cast that changes every year will help her learn how to adjust and work with people in the real world after completing her education.

“It gives me the opportunity to learn how to approach people, how to talk to different people. It’s taught me a lot of leadership skills,” she said.

Adia started out with Hinson as a young dance member of Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet Company in Clearwater. She has nothing but accolades for her co-star this year.

“I saw the talent in him the moment he first walked in,” said Adia about Jeloni. “He’s taken his role and transformed it, and he’s so willing to work with anyone.”

She plans to go to college for dance with the hopes of joining a contemporary ballet dance company to start her career as a performer.

Indeed, many young people from the Bay area who have gone on to pursue their dreams in the performing arts have crossed paths with Hinson and the Artz 4 Life Academy.

Any show that reaches such an altitude of excellence year after year requires a quality team to get the job done. This year’s cast was lead and inspired by the following team members: Wayne Bascom, Sir Brock Warren, Monica Richardson, Laquelle Mills, Marketa Robinson, Phoebe Dixon, Jared Brunson, Samiyah Parramore, Joshua Smith, Donovan Walker Collins, Vincent Bingham and Belinda Womack.

The busy weekend culminated its activities with a cast party at the Enoch Davis Recreation Center, where cast members and parents were treated to a full-course meal.

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