Photo By Claudia J. Gonzalez
By Claudia J. Gonzalez
Merced, Calif.— On Tuesday nights, the community of South Merced is buzzing with music.
As you approach the MacNamara Youth Center, the sound of drumming slowly intensifies. Inside, youth passionately beat their drums, carefully following the lead of Adam Shane, 34, and John Dovales Flores, 31, who are guiding the rhythm.
In the background, Marshall Trammell, 45, leads the group in dance, encouraging youth to get up and move, as it is custom to do so in traditional African and Indigenous drumming circles.
Once a week, a group of about 12 youth of various ages attend the Merced Youth Drum Corps drumming classes. The classes, led by community artists and musicians like Flores, Shane and Trammell, has been at the ‘Mac’ center since June, a partnership that blossomed with the non-profits that run the center out of a need to develop more programs in the area.
Flores had been volunteering at the ‘Mac’ ever since it reopened in February. Although he was very fond of the other programs housed at the center, he felt that a music education program was necessary.
With the help of Kelly Turner from Youth-I-Can, the trio successfully created and established the Drum Corps program. Community members stepped up to get the program off the ground by volunteering or donating instruments and snacks.
“I was lucky to have had music in my home growing up,” said Flores. “It saddened me that these kids did not have access to music education.”
In recent years, South Merced has become hugely associated with violence and the lack of youth investment. Back in February, two youth were gun down the same day, with one of them being killed at Tenaya Middle School, in the heart of South Merced.
Last week, the Merced Sun-Star also reported that a new research study by the Violence Policy Center placed Merced County fifth in the state among youth homicide leaving city officials scrambling to find solutions to the violence.
Both Trammell and Flores insist that one of the most important things about developing the Drum Corps was to ensure it came to fruition in South Merced, therefore giving youth a safe place away from all the violence plaguing the area.
“Of course teaching kids indigenous and contemporary technologies is a major component of our program,” stated Trammell. “But another component was to create a harm free zone.”
“Music can be the difference between getting in trouble or not,” added Flores.
Shane added that sports are often seen as the solution for violence prevention, but that not all kids are athletic.
“There needs to be an extra outlet for kids,” said Shane. “Music and art are great ways to get keep children involved and safe.”
17 year-old Jessenya De La Rosa has been drumming with the group since the classes began. She says the program is very beneficial for kids and wishes there were more programs like it.
“I like that this program teaches kids something different,” added De La Rosa. “Kids in South Merced really needed this.”
Hoping to get more youth involved, Flores says the group would like to expand in the future. However, being volunteer-led, there is a high need for donations in order to keep the program afloat.
A couple of months ago, they obtained a small grant from Building Healthy Communities which has alleviated some of their operational costs. Their goal was to purchase more instruments which have proven to be expensive.
“It is difficult to keep a program running,” admitted Flores. “But we are doing this because we want to change South Merced and we care about the kids.”
Merced Youth Drum Corps meets every Tuesday from 5-6pm at the McNamara youth center located at 1040 Canal St. For more information about joining the group you can contact John Dovales Flores at (209) 355-8896 or visit their Facebook page here.
To view more pictures of Merced Youth Drum Corp in action. you can visit our Facebook page here.