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Once you meet Ty Gant, it’s impossible to forget him. And if he starts talking to you, it’s hard not to listen. A constant smile on his face and a cadence in his voice, he himself is a lesson in gratitude and choice.
“I refuse to become a statistic,” he says. As the Program Associate at the Mix at Arbor Place, Gant has taken an active interest in nearly eighty kids who come to the community space. The Mix at Arbor Place is a non-denominational, faith-based organization located in Southeast Lancaster City. It is dedicated to meeting the spiritual, social, emotional, academic, and physical needs of local inner-city youth. Gant helps coordinate volunteers and is the facilitator of We Rock the Mic, their spoken word poetry program. In the summer of 2015, five individuals competed in Brave New Voices, the largest youth spoken word poetry festival in the world.
Growing up, his family moved around a lot. They moved out of the city and he went to Conestoga Valley in the second and third grade. Then he went to Penn Manor for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. His family moved again, this time to Hempfield, where he stayed in Centerville School District for seventh and eighth grade. Then he went back to Conestoga Valley for ninth grade. Gant finally finished his last three years at Penn Manor, being
homeless for nearly two years. “It was a lot of bouncing around, a lot of meeting new friends. I was so frustrated and often felt lost. I realized this whole time what I was seeking was direction by any male figure. And there was nobody.”
“But then,” he says with anticipation and emotion in his voice, “I realized there was a man named Barry Kornhauser who I could always lean on.” From the moment Gant met him, at a school job shadowing in the seventh grade, Kornhauser became his mentor. “I went to the Fulton and did a walkthrough, and Barry asked me if I’d like a job that summer. He helped me build my confidence and I have to thank that man. He’s been the greatest person in my life—male figure wise,” he says.“People don’t realize what he’s done for me—this short Jewish guy with this tall, skinny black guy. But he changed my life. He told me I could do it. Just show up. Just write.”
Gant is the first, after his mother, to graduate high school and the first and only to graduate from college and pursue higher education. Once he finished his undergrad, he had this idea about teaching literacy through the spoken word. After asking Kornhauser where such a program might exist, he went to the Mix at Arbor Place for the first time. “That day I walked straight in with a little notepad and I presented an idea to them. They took me to the boardroom and loved it.” After four months of volunteering they offered him a part-time job and then they offered him a salary. His idea became We Rock the Mic. “It’s more than poetry,” he says.
At twenty-eight years old, he could not be more grateful. He’s married to the love of his life, wife Ivelis Montanez, and counts their three children as a blessing (Jayzen, 6, Carter, 2, and Milan, 2 months). He’s currently pursuing his Masters from Eastern University. What’s next for Gant? “I want to continue to expand the performing arts in this city—not just by poetry, dance, acting, or journalism. Everything you can think of. I just want to give these kids an option. They’re bored. That’s why they commit crimes. I want to do well for my community. I don’t want to be another statistic.”