Free NYC Mission Society program offers kids chance to learn African, Latin and Jazz music

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“It’s like a feeling of being able to be myself," Alyza Tavaras said. “I’m releasing all this tension I was carrying throughout the day.”

Tavaras makes every moment matter to appreciate, learn and improve her craft.

“I’m still shocked that I’m actually playing right now,” she smiled.

Last year, the eighth-grader started coming to the New York City Mission Society’s free music program.

“The only way I ever saw an instrument was through the internet," she explained. "My school's never had a music program."

The centuries old anti-poverty nonprofit wanted to fill the gap created by the diminishing funding given to art education.

"The best way out of multi-generational poverty is to have a great education, learning to love learning," Elsie McCabe Thompson, president of NYC Mission Society, explained. “The arts help with every other academic discipline because you’re learning creativity.”

Joining forces with the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance brings a certain style and perspective to the students.

“First of all we’re in Harlem, so this is jazz,” Richard Miller, education manager of ALJA, said. "Second, the heritage of the students themselves is Afro and Latin so they are learning about themselves.”

The name of the program, GRIOT, with a silent T,  is derived from the West African term describing a member of a traveling team of artists.

“What I hope they take away is a sense of purpose and a way being,” Miller added.

Now dozens of local middle and high schools get that chance studying all aspects of putting together a song from working musicians. They learn about instruments, engineering, producing and more.

“You get to make new friends, meet new teachers, get to learn new music and you also get to have fun,” Cameron Prince said.

Cameron Prince, a 15-year-old percussionist, found his passion because of this program.

“I kind of feel like I’m in my own world when I play my music,” he smiled.

He’s taken his talents to many other avenues, one day hoping to do this professionally all because at GRIOT, opportunity has orchestrated optimism ensuring these kids never miss a beat.

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi