Boston Nonprofit Amplifies Youth Voices, Connects Them to Their Afro-Latin Heritage

"I love seeing the youth come in here and learning about Afro-Latin culture because it's their culture," said Hyde Square Task Force senior music coordinator Nicholas Perez

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Tucked away in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood is the Hyde Square Task Force, a nonprofit that has taken pride in educating the youth on Afro-Latin roots and culture through dance, theater and music for the last 30 years.

The congas, piano and guitar heard throughout the Sunnyside Street building are part of the "jovenes en accion" -- or youth in action -- program.

"I love seeing the youth come in here and learning about Afro-Latin culture because it's their culture," said senior music coordinator Nicholas Perez, whose goal is to expose a younger generation to instruments that may not be that popular but that play a huge role in the Afro-Latin and Latin community.

Perez said, "I teach them, 'Hey, you're Puerto Rican. This is what bongos are. This is what timbales are.' Then they start to fall in love with it, you know?"

"We mainly focus on the salsa music, everything that has the Afro-Latin culture and the way that they enjoyed music, and we focus a lot on creating that type of music," one student said.

And salsa seems to also take the center stage across the hallway, in the dance room.

"The term Afro-Latinos is not used enough in our community and why it is because a lot of our youth don't understand that connection," said dance program coordinator Genesis Rodriguez. "So sometimes you know, we have youth here that come in, they say, 'I'm not Black. I don't have Black family.'"

And so through some history lessons on how Africans arrived to Cuba and influenced their music, and a lot of dance steps, Rodriguez teaches that being Afro-Latin is part of their identity.

"I've gotten to learn more like we've learned about like the culture and the different forms of the dance and how it's evolved over time," student Ariana Monroig said. "So, I've bene able to explore a lot of things that I didn't think I would be able to before."

But jovenes en accion is a lot more than arts and culture.

"We also provide education support for our young people so that they can begin thinking about what they want to do post high school and begin creating a plan," said Hyde Square Task Force executive director Celina Miranda.

They're teaching the next generation to be civically engaged, how to be community organizers and showing them how they can make a difference in their community. Over the years, they have had many success stories, but for Miranda and her staff, it comes down to one thing.

"We shouldn't sort of wait for a special time to recognize that it is who we are. It's part of our history," Miranda said. "I think it's important to name it and acknowledge it and just realize that in the foods that we eat, in the music that we listen to, all of that is there."

Hyde Square Task Force has programs that run year round, are held after school and are completely free. If you'd like to learn more about it, visit their website or call them at 617-524-8303.

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