The MPLOY staff took its turn center stage during the celebration at the Levitt Shell. (Photos: Shirley Jackson)
De Ja S. Simpson adds her voice to the MPLOY ensemble.

The MPLOY Youth Summer Experience is a locally funded initiative administered by the Memphis Office of Youth Services, which provides Memphis youth ages 14 to 22 with meaningful and rewarding summer experiences.

My time in MPLOY has been a very great experience. I was involved with the MPLOY ensemble for my second year. An audition process determines who will make the cut for this elite group. We met every Friday to prepare for the Summit and the MPLOY Award Ceremony, which was held at the Levitt Shell Thursday. Every student and sponsor involved in the program was welcomed.

This year, we performed two songs for the crowd’s pleasure. We wanted to give everyone hope. We opened the show singing Kirk Franklin’s :Imagine Me,” and we closed out singing Kierra Sheard’s “Hang On.”

The audience seemed moved by our performance.

Standout students netted MPLOY Awards. (Photo: Shirley Jackson)

Afterwards, I remained backstage, where Office of Youth Services Division Director Ike Griffith, MPLOY Program Manager Joyce Douglas and others were clearly filled with joy to see so many young people come together and celebrate each other’s accomplishments over the six-week program.

Before and after each performance, there was a rush of energy backstage. Students had worked so hard throughout the program’s length to prepare for the celebration event.

During sound check, we rehearsed each song twice during the heat of the day and pushed through to make it a great showing. Before each performance, we sang a gospel song to give each other confidence.

MPLOY has allowed me to gain real experience in my field and get paid while doing it. Again this year, I learned many new things and met some amazing people.

MPLOY puts youth in position to be part of something great, helps some stay out of trouble and extends an opportunity to participate in something positive. A key message to students is that there is a way forward.

(De Ja S. Simpson a rising sophomore at East Tennessee State University, was an MPLOY Summer Youth Experience intern at The New Tri-State Defender)