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Walker West, Ujamaa Place create digital music program for young men

Six Black men pose for a photo in an audio production studio.
Ujamaa Place and Walker West Music Academy’s Digital Music Class curated for young men. (Photo courtesy of Walker West)

Walker West Academy and Ujamaa Place are now offering a Digital Music Production program to Black men between the ages of 18 to 30. The goal of the program is to boost health, economic, and social outcomes.

“It's about engagement,” said Walker West Music Academy’s Executive Director Braxton Haulcy.  “A lot of times at Walker West, some of these young men might not be interested in playing a violin, or a saxophone, or drums. But they will be interested in art and technology. A lot of our young men are very technology savvy. My hope is that eventually they'll build a landed career in digital music production. And then the other hope is that if you're really into digital music production, you’ll want to learn how to instrument eventually. You’ll want to learn how to play trumpet, guitar, saxophone, drums... so it's kind of like a merchandising trick. We want to pull them in with the art and technology and then take it further.”

Walker West Academy, the African American music hub housed on Selby Avenue in Saint Paul, will be providing classroom space through its Digital Music Lab, under the leadership of Program Director Katia Cardenas. Local talent will also be coming in as mentors within the program to offer expertise.

Ujamaa Place, a non-profit catering to the long term stability and success of young African American men, will place its program participants into the newly accessible resources.

“I think one of the most important and beneficial gifts that you can give another human being is a creative outlet,” said Michael Belton of Ujamaa Place. “We of the African diaspora are definitely spiritual beings, and so it ties us to our spirit. It ties us to a deeper sense of self–and a greater sense of possibilities out into the world. It helps us to find and amplify our voices out in the world.” 

The program will take place Thursdays at 2:30pm. Saint Paul based rapper and recorder producer Allan Kingdom will facilitate the program. Participants will learn how to use professional music creation software, operate audio gear, and be exposed to the newest music production technology with the goal of  preparing them for the modern music industry.

Ujamaa Interim COO Michael Belton and CEO Chris Crutchfield say their friendship was founded over the work they do at Ujamaa today. Dating back 20 years ago to when they worked in a juvenile corrections office, they say they were connected over the desire to serve the needs of juvenile justice. And though the space they do this in has changed, the foundation of their “why” – shedding light on the potential of the overlooked – has remained steady.

“I mean, that's why I get up in the morning,” said Crutchfield. “That's what gives me a sense of purpose to try – because we have Bill Gates, we have Jeff Bezos, we have Albert Einsteins that have been kicked around and have not been able to reach their full potential. We have writers, we have mathematicians, we have scientists, we have all the great geniuses in our community. We just need to give those plants a little bit of water and let them flourish.” 

Belton says he has no doubt that this program will serve a mission much larger than just offering the opportunity to build employable economic skills. He says due to a former experience of providing a recording studio at Neighborhood House in a disadvantaged community in Boston, he has seen the transformative effects of creative resources in marginalized communities. 

“I saw the magic of that. And I believe that is one of the greatest healing aspects for our people,” said Belton. “And so to me, it is much deeper and much more profound than just a job. I mean, employment is important. But a sense of understanding, creating creative possibilities, and helping people get creative opportunities, I think is the big win here.”

The new program is supported by the NBA Foundation, which is focused on driving economic opportunity and empowerment in the Black community.

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