La Villa Hispana

For La Villa Hispana youth, beating the summer heat means getting on beat at the Boys & Girls Club

For members of the Boys & Girls Clubs (BGCC) at Luis Muñoz Marin and Walton Elementary Schools, beating the summer heat means getting on beat.

Eighteen children in grades 5 through 8 from both schools have been participating in Amistad, a program created between the BGCC and Open Tone Music, a nonprofit organization making music education more accessible to urban communities. Now in its second year, Amistad focuses specifically on Afro-Cuban music—a natural fit for the surrounding Latino community. (Of the 13 BGCC clubs around Cleveland, just two are on the west side, and both are located in La Villa Hispana.)


This summer’s camp ran for four weeks, culminating in a performance on Friday, July 19, at Bop Stop. Children participated in an instrumental ensemble, but also took classes on music theory and history connecting American music back to the Caribbean and African diasporas.

Boys & Girls Clubs at Luis Muñoz Marin and Walton Elementary Schools
But the purpose of Amistad is not simply music education, according to Chris Anderson, executive director of Open Tone Music. The end goal, says Anderson, is “helping to build self-esteem, work ethic, [teaching students to] respect themselves and their communities.” Most participants in the program are maintaining an above average GPA.


Amistad has also been an opportunity to reconnect with their culture. According to Alex Rivera, site director at Luis Muñoz Marin, there were roughly 40 to 50 new faces attending the BGCC after relocating in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Those who participated in the music program would return with “huge smiles on their faces,” he shares.


The BGCC’s music programming with Open Tone has been a staple since 2011, but Open Tone

achieved affiliate status in April of this year. This means more back-end support and more activities, including vocal music and movement classes. Many local professional musicians have volunteered with the program, including Latin jazz musician Sammy DeLeon.


According to Walton site director Barbara Bell, Amistad has facilitated a great deal of growth among the children. Participants are awarded leadership roles based on four areas: attendance, how they interact with others, leadership ability, and music skills. 

In the future, Anderson hopes to incorporate more travel into the program. Eventually, he would like to take a group to visit somewhere in the Caribbean, further incorporating culture and music. For some of these children, these trips are their first time leaving the neighborhood. “Creating world citizens can have huge impacts on community,” says Anderson.

This article is part of our On the Ground - La Villa Hispana community reporting project in partnership with Dollar Bank, Hispanic Business Center, Esperanza Inc., Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and Cleveland Development Advisors. Read the rest of our coverage here.