College Pathways

Arts and Media June 2022 PREMIUM
Berklee City Music Creative Youth Development Program

Written by Dr. Krystal Prime Banfield

With over 25 years of success in educating and motivating thousands of youth from underserved communities, Berklee City Music “BCM” – Berklee College of Music’s largely urban popular music education and creative youth development program – has increased equity and access to education and pathways to careers by meeting young people and their families and engaging them with what is most familiar—their culture and music.

As a pre-college organization within a college cultural institution founded specifically for contemporary popular music and where the mission is rooted in the African cultural diaspora, Berklee City Music fulfills that mission. This has been achieved by meeting youngsters in their communities—community and religious centers, community youth programs, schools, and outdoor neighborhood festivals that we produce in collaboration with the city and highly valued local cultural community service programs. Our youth are always “plugged in” to music and the latest trend. When they see and hear the music they know, or music that sounds familiar, we connect with them on common ground or have peers from BCM talk with them in their safe spaces. It is from there that we begin teaching and that youth become empowered, having discovered their own creativity, their own voice and their lineage of music making.

Our teachers, staff, partnership community organizations, and schools align with our core values and approaches to teaching and learning that put students—who they are and how they identify culturally and beyond—at the center of our mission and our program. Mr. Misael Martinez, Senior Director for Creative Youth Development and Berklee City Music Operations says, “We look to music and the arts as the vehicles for impact and transformational change, but we also know that we are the creators and take a student-centered approach. We help the students tap into the creative and innate gifts they have. To do that, we had to create safe spaces and recruit representative practitioners and adults who embody the cultural roots and meet young people where they are—meeting all of the richness and cultural diversity that comes to it—allowing the students to tell and share their stories, share their performances, sharpen their techniques from something that’s coming from within as opposed to something that we’re pouring into them. We pull it out. The environment plays a major role in that, as well as the community.”

Martinez continues, “We’ve been focusing on strengthening those two things [communities and enriched safe environment] so that our students can just show up and be their full selves. From this approach, we find a lot of positive results. The students’ creativity and attitude become contagious to the adults. This effect is because of what the teachers created for the students, helping them strengthen their innate creativity that stems from within. The roots of each child’s culture add to the experiences of the collective.”

Martinez emphasizes that “society has hit the Latino culture in a unique way in the last couple of years. We feel that we can provide a voice to the voiceless as people have been silenced—masked literally—and under attack. The arts and music continue to speak out as a voice for the voiceless, and are actually the roots of our country. Music  has amplified and shown the power of the people and its heritage”.

As an institution with resources and a mission, we established a membership network of like-minded organizations across North America called Berklee City Music Network and an online contemporary popular music educational resource technology tool called PULSE (Pre-university learning system experience) to connect us.

City Music Network, a part of Berklee City Music, is a consortium of 47 community organizations across the United States, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico and South America that leverages the power of contemporary music to help youth from underserved communities develop musically, academically, socially, and emotionally. Network sites operate independently in their respective communities and share the same core values, curricula, and methodologies based on Berklee College of Music ideology. Each year, City Music Network provides over 62,000 students with an unparalleled contemporary music education experience that fosters discipline, communication, teamwork, leadership skills, and a broader worldview.

City Music Network programs use culturally relevant music as a vehicle for holistic youth development. Participating students receive unique benefits that help them develop as both musicians and future community leaders. The Berklee PULSE® online music education platform presents all music resources through a social, cultural context which provides students with the capabilities to study, jam, and practice using interactive modules and an ever-expanding collection of popular music—and gives teachers the professional development training they need to deliver Berklee-caliber education to students. Expert faculty, individualized mentoring, and a comprehensive curriculum encourage well-rounded development. Students can also apply for scholarships to attend the Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program, an immersive program offered by the college that enables young people to develop their skills with world-class faculty in state-of-the-art facilities along with musicians from more than 70 countries.

Berklee City Music is a big idea that continues to educate youth and teachers, who also respond by having grown up listening to music that uplifted them. It has become an effective means for preparing and educating youth to cope with the realities that life brings—empowering students to think, know, and be active participants in creating meaning, constructing their own realities, and understanding the social contexts of themselves and others. •

Author Bio

Krystal Banfield is Berklee College’s Vice President for Education Outreach and Social Entrepreneurship, overseeing Berklee City Music’s programming and Berklee PULSE®, as well as establishing strategies to achieve its vision to become the world’s leading creative youth development program.

Her academic career includes adjunct voice professor and music education lecturer at University of St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Conservatory of Music. Her published and recorded works include articles featured in Cambridge Scholars Press and the Teaching Artist Journal, and recordings on the INNOVA label.

Dr. Banfield holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Howard University in Washington, DC; a Master of Music from Indiana University-Bloomington; and a Doctorate in Education with concentrations in curriculum development, critical pedagogy and educational leadership from University of St. Thomas-Minneapolis.

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