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After-school program to teach Boston teens music, film industry skills

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
After-school program to teach Boston teens music, film industry skills
Kavayah Wright will serve as an instructor in an after-school program teaching students the fundamentals of audio engineering. (Photo: Photo courtesy Kavayah Wright)

When Kavayah Wright attended the annual meeting of the Audio Engineering Society last year, he was struck by the lack of diversity in the recording and sound industry.

“You didn’t see people of color,” he said. “There was kind of a void there.”

Wright spoke to Richard Smith, a local entrepreneur, about what they could do to help bring more people of color into the lucrative industry.

“We saw a need for that part of the industry to grow,” Wright said. “There are jobs out there, but we’re not getting them.”

Beginning this fall, Smith, Wright and Anthony Schultz, vice president of Eastern Region of US/Canada of the Audio Engineering Society, will be working to bring diversity to the industry.

The trio teamed up to run a program, through Smith’s National Youth Development Council, at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and at a second location in Cambridge. For three days a week, students enrolled in the after-school program will learn the fundamentals of audio engineering, recording, animation and other cutting edge technologies in the music and film industries. The program is open to all Boston high school students. Smith will serve as the program’s coordinator. Wright and Schultz are among the program’s instructors.

Smith says the Boston component of the program can accommodate 50 to 100 students, and will open pathways for students from neighborhoods where opportunities are lacking.

“They don’t have the opportunities, but they have the aptitude,” he commented. “The doors to the entertainment industry have basically been closed to people of color.”

Cambridge branch

The Cambridge location, due to open in February at the city-owned Foundry Building in Kendall Square, will serve as many as 200 students, according to former State Rep. Saundra Graham, who is leading the effort to launch the program there.

“We have kids in Cambridge who don’t have after-school programs,” Graham said. “They love music. You hear them talking about it. I loved Richard’s idea.”

Smith says Wright and the other instructors working for the National Youth Development Council will teach classes in audio engineering, lighting, music production, animation and business management. The classes will pave the way for students to obtain internships or entry-level jobs in television, in the film industry, at concert venues and in the theatre.

“This is a big industry,” he said. “There are a significant number of jobs in Massachusetts.”

Smith founded the organization in 2010. His board includes local luminaries like Northeastern University Vice President for Public Affairs Bob Gittens and Suffolk County Registrar of Probate Felix D. Arroyo.

While the organization’s program at Madison Park is moving forward, plans to offer the same classes at East Boston High School are on hold. Smith obtained a $75,000 earmark in the state budget to fund the program in East Boston when the school’s headmaster, Phillip Brangiforte, expressed support for the program in a January meeting, Smith says, but Brangiforte later withdrew support. Brangiforte did not return phone calls for this story.

“He was excited about the program,” Smith recalls of the January meeting. He said it was exactly what the kids needed. He said they had something that was similar, but not exactly like this.”

The East Boston program, which was the target of a WGBH report on earmarks in the state budget, is on hold. While the WGBH report questioned the legitimacy of Smith’s program, Smith says he’s focused on providing students who come to his program at Madison Park with top quality instruction.

“We have assembled some of the greatest minds in this community,” he said. “I don’t want people taking shots at us to undermine the work we’ve done.”

Kavayah Wright, who plays bass with the Ky-Mani Marley and other high-grossing acts, says he intends to make that a reality.

“It’s important for our youth to be involved in media and arts,” he said. “They need to know what’s out there.”