[lang_en]Innovative After School Program Showcases Talents of Humboldt Park Youth Provides Alternatives through Arts, Culture, Technology and Community[/lang_en]


[lang_en] Xavier “Xavi” Luis Burgos

Rare is the opportunity to honor the academic and creative achievements of youth outside of school. On December 19, such a celebration took place on Paseo Boricua for the culmination of the second cycle of the Barrio Arts, Culture, and Communication Academy (BACCA). BACCA is an innovative after school program developed by the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) in collaboration with the Capilla del Barrio Community Chapel and funding from the Bethany United Hospital Fund. BACCA served, for eight-weeks, 18 high school-age youth, mostly from Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS) and other Humboldt Park-area schools.

BACCA addresses the high drop-out/push-out rates in the Humboldt Park community that, as a result, most mainstream media outlets portray as a wild jungle overridden by dangerous and uneducated youth. Therefore, BACCA seeks to integrate community, culture, and alternative media to empower youth to be agents of change and inspiration in their community. The program also seeks to develop the assets that youth already have but are rarely acknowledged in standard educational programs and schools. The different classes that exist are Radio, Multimedia (a combination of graphic design and photography), Skateboarding, and Participatory Democracy. Participants are able to choose which of these classes they would like to join, with the latter class being taken by all students.

On December 19, BACCA hosted an event to showcase the application of BACCA’s vision through the different programs. Attended by over 60 youth, parents, and community residents, it was some of the participants’ first time speaking and presenting to an audience. The Participatory Democracy students read poetry and stories that addressed their thoughts and experiences on the issue of gentrification/displacement of longtime residents from Humboldt Park due to rising rents and expensive housing development. The class is a civic engagement piece that seeks to redefine community and youth organizing.  Marilyn Pérez, 17, a junior at PACHS received loud applause for her piece that exclaimed, “The reason we fight for this community is because it’s unique and lively/ Like no other/ Paseo Boricua/ A place I would never want to see die/A place if it gets destroyed I would suffer and cry…”

The Multimedia class, which produced a full-colored book of their work, discussed the subject of identity through graphic design, photography, and poetry. The themes of community, family, culture, and adolescence served as an inspiration for their dynamic works of art and creativity. The class also produced a small video documentary about BACCA with student interviews and a CD that included the work of the different BACCA classes.

Probably the most unlikely class for an after school program was Skateboarding, which presented many artistic creations. Reclaiming community history is an important concept of BACCA, and skateboarding as an increasingly popular form of inner-city youth recreation is a part of that. Skateboarding and Hip-Hop are almost forgotten pieces of Puerto Rican history in the diaspora. The class researched and discussed that history as well as designed their very own skateboards. A huge, colorful timeline created by the students was displayed at the event.

The last class to present was Radio, which showcased their skills in ProTools and other voice recording software with clips of insightful testimonials and interviews about alternative schools, gentrification, and personal triumphs.

At the end of the successful event, which included catering by Nellie’s Puerto Rican Restaurant, the audience filled-out comment cards that will be used for a program evaluation being conducted by Dr. Michele Kelley of the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) School of Public Health.

“I hope that they could take what they learn from BACCA and be able to go out into the world and be critical of the other works that they see in photography, radio, and film…and how they can be the ones to tie media to their communities,” said Samuel J. Vega, who was a student in BACCA’s first cycle and is now a university student of media at Northeastern Illinois University.

For more information on BACCA, please contact: 773-342-8023.[/lang_en]

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