For nearly 15 years, Refresh Collective has cultivated tomorrow’s change-makers through self-expression and skill-building. We’ve helped over 12,000 students in Cleveland and Cincinnati develop artistic, interpersonal and transferrable employment skills as they write, produce and perform their original work. Here are just a few stories to share with you about the powerful impact you make through your support. 

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In December 2023, News 5 Cleveland visited our after-school class to report on a staggering reality: youth homicides in Cleveland are up 62% over the last decade. Sadly, many of our students and staff have been directly impacted by the wave of violence sweeping our cities. Yet News 5 captured the uplifting spirit they witnessed in our after-school program, where students came together to create an anti-violence anthem called “Cleveland: Is It Safe?” The students credited the after-school program for giving them a safe space for them to grow, process trauma, and move forward: “Being able to express myself through music and through these lyrics is a blessing I will never be able to give back,” said one student, Marc.The song ends with a message of hope by Refresh student Ericka Stewart, who has since graduated to become a Refresh Teaching Artist herself: “Open your eyes / and realize / Your light is bright / Your change is nigh / Don’t go softly into that good night / You have a choice / You have a voice / Choose life.”

Ericka: Jiff Diff Maker

This talented student has been with Refresh for almost 2 years—first joining our Mural Art Class; then attending our After-School Fall 2022 classes; and then being one of our Fresh Force summer interns. She has been able to build a wide variety of skills with us: music, murals, lyric-writing, acting, collaboration, leadership, and more, all fueled by a deep love of hip-hop. In summer 2023, Ericka appeared on FIVE songs on our Fresh Force Album, "Breaking Out The System," and performed at venues such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Beachland Ballroom! She even stepped up to teach “Hip-Hop History” during our summer job internship program, teaching her fellow students about the life & career of the great Nas. After the summer, Ericka Stewart graduated from student to an official Teaching Artist and began teaching Visual Arts with us at CMSD schools; for her work, she accepted the Jiff Diff Maker of the Game award from the Cleveland Cavaliers on behalf of Refresh Collective in December 2023.

Refresh has proven to me and everyone that my voice matters and my music can bring change. Refresh has allowed me to express myself along with helping me grow as an artist.” —Ericka

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In 2022, Spectrum News’ Taylor Bruck visited our program at MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio. In just 2 weeks, we guided the entire 9th grade class as they wrote lyrics, recorded them, and performed in front of their entire school. For the majority of students, this was their first time ever doing any form of public speaking, and to see them rise to the occasion was earth-shatteringly powerful. “These students don’t just learn to rap — they learn to communicate, build rapport and make an impact on people around them,” Bruck wrote. 



In Lighthouse School in Madisonville (Cincinnati), students make memories and music with Lead Teaching Artist K-Drama—a highly accomplished hip-hop artist who regularly tours and has even charted on Billboard! WCPO Cincinnati wrote a news article on our “unique approach” to learning and personal growth.

One of the students in the class, Destiny, started the year unsure if she wanted to stay enrolled. She had recently lost her mother suddenly and was carrying the weight of the grief on her shoulders. However, because of the trust and relationships built with our Teaching Artists, she found a safe place to learn how to healthily feel, process, and regulate her emotions. Through creating an original song “No Struggle, No Strength,” Destiny not only expressed herself, but also gained transferable work skills, self-discipline, and knowledge about the music industry. As the icing on the cake, she officially released “No Struggle, No Strength” with K-Drama on his YouTube channel in 2024.



One of our past students, Malia, penned a personal op-ed for Cleveland’s The Land magazine about how Refresh Collective “helped me find my voice.” She wrote that when Refresh first visited her school, she looked at founder Dee Jay Doc and thought, “I am not going to do this. Writing music and beatmaking, that’s not me. That’s too much pressure. I’m 15. I can’t make music!” Doc believed otherwise…

Malia not only ended up performing her verse in front of her entire school, but working two summers in our Fresh Force summer job program. She designed clothing, gained experience using computer software, and learned important workplace skills. “Before I met Doc and the Refresh Collective, I was an antisocial mess of doubt,” she wrote, “I never would have believed that someone like me could accomplish much in life. Now I’m learning a lot every day, and I know that no matter what challenges I encounter, I can and will accomplish my goals.”



Dennis, by his own admission, had a severe lack of social skills and confidence when we met him in 9th grade. But through Refresh Collective, Dennis found an outlet and his voice. As someone who has been diagnosed with autism, Dennis made music about his story and struggles—and one of his songs even ended up on the radio! In 2021, News 5 Cleveland documented Dennis’ story and personal transformation at Refresh Collective. Dennis is now a regular performer and established hip-hop artist in Cleveland, having performed with us at venues such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Beachland Ballroom, and the Bop Stop.