At ZUMIX, the welcoming “vibe” starts even before you enter the front door, as the sounds of ZUMIX Radio—which airs shows produced and hosted by local youth—are broadcast onto the street in front of the organization’s headquarters in East Boston, Massachusetts. The ZUMIX sound continues inside the building, where—depending on the day and time—guitar or drum lessons, a rehearsal by a Latin band, and the voice of a budding hip-hop songwriter might meld into a colorful audio tapestry.
ZUMIX was established in 1991 following a wave of youth-to-youth violence in the Boston area. East Boston is a struggling, working-class neighborhood near Logan Airport, separated from the rest of the city by Boston Harbor. With a high proportion of lower-income, immigrant, single-parent families, this increasingly Latino neighborhood was in need of a way to positively channel young people’s energies during the long hours when many students were left on their own, explains Program Director Kim Dawson.
Initially begun as a songwriting program in the apartment of one of its founders, ZUMIX’s offerings have expanded to include free group programs and low-cost individual and group lessons on everything from piano to bass guitar taught by professional music staff as well as volunteers from the renowned Berklee College of Music. A separate audio technology program provides training for budding audio engineers, who are put to work running sound for performances at ZUMIX or elsewhere in the city. ZUMIX also offers classes in radio production, with some students going on to host or produce their own shows on the organization’s streaming, online community radio station.
Now located in a renovated firehouse, ZUMIX has become a second home for many participants, and young people often stay with the organization for years. The emphasis on group classes and teamwork helps foster a sense of belonging and cultural understanding, important for reducing tensions in this highly diverse area. Through the vehicles of songwriting and artistic performances, young people also gain insight into their own lives and the confidence to take positive steps. As one 18-year-old musician put it, “Whenever I feel stressed or buried under emotions, I sing a song and feel under control and ready to face the world.”