Immediately after experiencing the loss of her mother (Dr. Sharon Jacques-Rabb), a family friend told Renee Curry “What your mom accomplished was her legacy, those were her achievements – not yours. Therefore, her legacy cannot be passed-down to you like a family heirloom. You have to create your own legacy!” It was then that Renee began to cope with the loss of her mother; she now realized that she had to do something with the torch that her mother handed her – a legacy of community healing. Accordingly, Renee began modeling the skills that her mother had used to create such a legacy.
In 2006 Dr. Rabb founded the Center for the Empowerment of Families (CEF) after closing her private practice – a practice she had maintained for thirty-five years. Renee has chosen to continue the work necessary to realize her mother’s dream of improving the mental health and coping skills of underserved communities in Los Angeles County. Today, Renee is Executive Director of CEF. Moreover, she is well on her way to completing her Master of Science degree program in Counseling Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy, as she is in her last year at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles.
In private practice Dr. Rabb was unique. She was one of few African-American female therapists who provided counseling services to many of America’s celebrities and high-profile achievers. After years in private practice, Dr. Rabb decided to shift her therapeutic focus. She began to actualize her vision of providing marginalized youth and families with the tools necessary for sustaining their well-being and for rebuilding their communities. Dr. Rabb knew all too well what neglect, abandonment, and lack of resources means to an individual, not to mention an entire community. She, herself, was raised in the foster care system of Los Angeles County. But from that humble beginning she went on to earn two Masters degrees (one in Psychology and another in Theology) and a Doctorate in Psychology. More than her academic achievements, however, Dr. Rabb was able to withstand and recover quickly from difficult conditions – she was resilient, says Rene. Ironically, Renee would be thrust into developing her own resiliency when in 2010 she found herself rushing Dr. Rabb to the hospital. She was having severe back pain, and, unfortunately, doctors would later discover that the cause was stage-four breast cancer. Dr. Rabb would live another four years in and out of chemotherapy treatment, yet she still delivered therapeutic services for youth and families. She did this through CEF’s partnerships with community-based organizations, corrections and rehabilitation institutions, hospitals, and faith-based communities. Today, modeling her mother’s resilient and caring mindset, Renee brings innovative, therapeutic programming to the same populations.
Under Renee’s leaderships, CEF brought the first pilot therapeutic ballet class to Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall’s Eastlake Facility in October 2016. Unlike many traditional trauma recovery methods like teaching, dance is a self-soothing method that makes participants feel responsible for their own mental and physical health. Therefore, very importantly for the young people who have been the victims of human trafficking, through therapeutic dance they learn how to re-take control of their bodies. Ballet – introduced through CEF’s mentorship and now partnership with Pony Box Dance Theatre – enabled more than sixty incarcerated youth to learn self-healing skills and empowered them to regain control of their identities. Renee has now enjoyed a more than ten-year partnership with the Los Angeles County Probation Department as a frequent provider of a myriad of therapeutic services like the Dance for Healing Project. And, beginning in 2017, The Dance for Healing Project is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission through the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (the only arts collaborative for incarcerated youth in California). The Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network is a network of vetted arts programming providers that provide arts programs for youth detention sites and Probation-run schools throughout Los Angeles County.
CEF provides therapeutic services to the most severely marginalized and victimized youth in Los Angeles County. For example, CEF helps girls and boys who have been sex trafficked with their journaling, they help find shelter for homeless youth, they help find protection for youth neglected by their caregivers, and they provide counseling for youth who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. The moment Renee experienced thirteen to seventeen-year old’s who hadn’t received shoes in so long that they didn’t know their own shoe sizes, she thought to herself “How can our society turn its back on this demographic?” Renee says that she lives for the moments when, for example, the postures of the youth in the Juvenile Hall Ballet program changed upon getting into their leotards; or when the postures of the youth in the Juvenile Hall Hip-Hop dance program changed upon getting into their hip-hop dance clothes. These youth, says Renee, even begin to bond and develop patterns of empathy towards one another, behavior that is not usually seen in the Juvenile Hall setting. They even began to create choreography of their own outside of dance classes, and brought these ideas to their recitals. CEF’s Dance for Healing Project introduced a new meaning to emotional recovery with the added benefit of physical fitness, says Renee. It has made a few dreams come true too; as many of the girls expressed having always dreamed of being a ballerina, says Renee.
Under the aegis of CEF’s Dance for Healing Project, different genres of dance are taught to youth in Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Hall system. CEF partners with a variety of accomplished dance instructors. Some who are still performing professionally themselves. Some have worked with the Alvin Ailey and Dance Theatre of Harlem productions, some who are survivors themselves of various trauma. Those who have experienced their own past traumas teach the kids more than dance. They share their background as trauma sufferers and how they used dance to help heal themselves. In this way, for the youth CEF serves, these dance instructors model, and are the very embodiment of, resilience.
Moreover, according to Renee, CEF follows-up and stays engaged with some of the youth they have contacted while they were incarcerated, even after they have been placed back into society. Renee says that upon their release back into society, CEF maintains mentorships with them, pays for their membership in certain arts programs, and more.
CEF’s goal, says Renee, is to mobilize its holistic mental health treatments for underserved and marginalized youth in hospitals and those in health focused centers in Los Angeles County. Moreover, to address these mental health disparities and to mitigate the stigma of therapy found in underserved and marginalized communities, CEF is planning to open clinics throughout Los Angeles County, says Renee.