By Joy Hepp
In the music industry it’s all about who you know. And contrary to popular belief, not every kid in Orange County has Mickey Mouse on speed dial.
Despite a recent drop in violent crime, the county is not immune to gang activity. In 2008, a 15-year-old was shot to death by a suspected west side Anaheim gang member at a Fullerton bus stop. The city is also fighting a battle with taggers, whose graffiti is a sore spot with those in the local tourism industry.
Anaheim’s Project RYTMO (Reaching Youth Through Music Opportunities) seeks to be a positive alternative for youth in need of a creative outlet and support system.
The nonprofit organization provides at-risk 14-to-24-year-olds with occupational music technology skills and introduces them to industry insiders in the process. Since the program’s inception in 2003, several graduates have gone on to work in music or to study at local universities.
“A lot of [young people] are searching for some form of expression for their anger and for their frustration… and many of them are really struggling,” RYTMO Co-founder Joey Arreguin says. “Add a recession, add no jobs, no education, high school drop outs, youth who already have a history of incarceration, foster youth and homeless youth, and you start to understand that there’s a real void in our communities and our ability to connect with young people.”
Arreguin added that one of the biggest challenges for community organizations working with at-risk youth is finding activities that will consistently keep them focused and engaged.
“If a young person is not into sports, then its really down to either music or technology,” he says.
With a curriculum that integrates music theory, performance, business techniques and editing software programs, RYTMO’s administrators believe they have found a winning combination.
“We know that after school between 3 pm and 6 pm is a time when a lot of the crime goes up,” says RYTMO Vice President Michael Anderson. “Bringing them into a music program where they have to concentrate on writing words or coming up with their beats takes them off the streets and into their homes where they are practicing and working on their craft of music.”
Arreguin and Anderson say they have seen evidence of RYTMO’s effect on the community in their own backyard. According to Arreguin, the fence behind RYTMO headquarters cuts across the dividing line between two rival Anaheim gangs and was covered in their graffiti.
After two members of the opposing gangs met and befriended each other in one of RYTMO’s programs, they agreed to convince their respective organizations that the fence was off limits. It’s been tag-free ever since.
Watch a video report on the youth in RYTMO: