Art apprentice + local youth program + award = FLOTUS

“I was thinking, ‘Stay calm. Don’t trip.’”

If you were steps away from meeting First Lady Michelle Obama, to shake her hand and accept an award for a youth program, you’d probably have the same thoughts.

On Tuesday, November 15, 2016, AnnaLise Cason, a junior at Confluence Preparatory Academy, was thinking about staying poised as she met Mrs. Obama at a ceremony at the White House.

So, what’s the backstory?

Cason is an apprentice with St. Louis ArtWorks, a nonprofit organization. St. Louis ArtWorks was selected as one of 12 winners of the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Cason was chosen to go with the executive director of St. Louis ArtWorks, Priscilla Block, to attend the event and accept the award, presented by First Lady Obama.

Quietly and humbly, Cason explained that she was asked to be part of the experience because of her leadership and how she carries herself. “They thought I’d be a good representative.” The day she was asked happened to be her birthday, making it even more memorable. Her mother, JoAnne Cason, was with her when she found out, and her mom made the trip to D.C., too.

Cason has been with SLAW since 2014. She has loved to draw and paint since she was little, saying that her mother and grandmother would give her a “huge case of art supplies” for Christmas, and that she “always had coloring books.” Through SLAW, she has learned about textiles, screen printing, videography, stop-motion film, woodworking, photography and mural painting.

She describes herself as a visual artist. Through her creativity, others can “see the world the way I draw it.”

“With art, there is no specific way to do it.”

Cason started school as a kindergartner at Confluence Academy-Old North. At CPA, she’s involved in Student Council, College Summit Peer Leaders, Gateway2Change and the Sophia Project. She applied for SLAW with encouragement from Joyce Southerland-Wade, school social worker.

Looking toward the future, Cason said she’s gone on every college visit and college tour field trip offered at CPA. She is interested in Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Southeast Missouri State University and St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley to study sociology, art and literature.

Back to the trip to D.C.…what else does she remember?

“The other teenagers who were there, we were all talking. It was emotional because it was going to be one of the last public ceremonies for the First Lady. We were telling each other not to cry,” said Cason.

She didn’t cry, but she was concerned about how to hug Mrs. Obama. No worries, though. It went well, and Cason got a compliment from the First Lady on her outfit.

“She said it was beautiful, and I said ‘Thank you.’”

How do you rate that kind of moment in a young life?

“It’s a 10!”


Center photo: Priscilla Block, St. Louis ArtWorks, AnnaLise Cason, First Lady Michelle Obama; photo provided from awards ceremony.

Top photo: Cason with Mike Powers, principal, Confluence Preparatory Academy.

Bottom photo: Cason with a drawing of her work on display at Confluence Preparatory Academy.