Thanks to Christopher Horn ’12 (West Simsbury, Conn.) and Benjamin Kreczko ’12 (Weatogue, Conn.), “Dru,” “Halo,” “Trey,” and “Adonis Da Don,” inner-city youths from Rhode Island, have found their voices as hip-hop artists.
Horn, a public and community service studies major, founded the No Affiliation Urban Youth Music Program during his sophomore year at Providence College. Backed by an anonymous $4,000 donation to the Feinstein Institute for Public Service, Horn purchased portable recording equipment that has allowed an estimated 100 youths from Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and elsewhere to record their own music.
Kreczko, a finance major and Horn’s friend since high school, brought business expertise to the nonprofit that both hope will continue after they graduate. They have secured contracts with Tides Family Services of Rhode Island to work with young people in alternative high school programs and with Beat Box Studio on Main Street in Pawtucket to record artists. They are hoping to explore options to franchise studios.
“I have come to see that the beauty of the music program is that it is a positive influence to everyone who interacts with it, not just the recording artist,” said Kreczko. “It has been a growing experience for Chris and me, our PC friends who come to recordings, the artist’s friends who come to watch, and the artists themselves.”
No Affiliation’s roots were planted during Horn’s first semester at PC, when he was seeking a program to fulfill his community service requirement. Dr. Keith W. Morton, professor of public and community service studies, suggested that Horn join him at a weekly “safe space” program for gang-affiliated and high-risk youth. The program was being piloted at the Madeline Rogers-Selim Recreation Center on Camden Avenue in Providence by the Institute for the Study and Practice of Non-Violence.
“It was 100 individuals and me, a white kid from PC,” said Horn. “I loved it. I thought it was awesome — me for once being out of place like that. It was the edginess I wanted. I entered their world on their terms. I played basketball, and I made sure I was as aggressive as they were.”
Horn made another discovery while volunteering each week at the center, playing games and talking with the teens. “I noticed that despite their differences, they were all talking about the same music, the same artists,” Horn said. “There was a unifying factor to music.”
A positive influence
So, during his sophomore year, Horn brought his Apple MacBook to the Tavares Center at the Chad Brown public housing complex in Providence and offered youths a chance to record. He used a simple GarageBand program that “wasn’t very good. They loved it, though,” Horn remembered.
Each week, more and more teenagers came from all over the city, and Horn realized he was on to something important. He wasn’t even a hip-hop fan — he liked folk music.
“I started seeing that (rap) was very real to them,” said Horn. “It was a cultural thing. I began to appreciate the artistry in it. … the different word uses, the metaphors. Now I appreciate the music so much. They pour their hearts into what they’re saying.”
The “disconnectedness” of a microphone frees teens to express themselves, Horn found.
“It’s the third party,” Horn said. “They’ll say it to a piece of paper, but they won’t say it to you. They’ll say it into a microphone, but they won’t say it to you.”
Kreczko said No Affiliation has “given us an avenue to be a positive influence to youth who have very few positive role models in their lives. We provide something they absolutely love and otherwise could not afford. It gives them something to look forward to and truly enjoy in a safe environment. Along the way, we try to be positive influences to them and offer emotional support by listening to their stories and concerns.”
PC students have benefited from the experience as well.
“It has opened my eyes, and my PC friends’ eyes, to the poverty that exists just five minutes away,” Kreczko said. “I was living in a bubble before I became involved in the music program, but now I have seen the hardships that exist. This program has given me a love for community work that I know I will continue for the rest of my life.”
“It works on the ground”
Horn and Kreczko have found much support at PC. No Affiliation artists have performed at “Late Night Madness,” the annual kick-off to the men’s basketball season, and have been featured on the student-run radio station WDOM.
The contract with Tides Family Services came through a PC alumnus, Francis Sullivan ’65, development director at Tides, who heard Horn speak last October at a luncheon for College donors.
No Affiliation brings its portable recording equipment to Tides’ location in Pawtucket to work with young people from around the state. To relax the students, “Ben and I rap, and we’re horrible at rapping,” Horn said.
Artists from No Affiliation act as mentors to the Tides students and are paid by Tides for their services.
Morton calls No Affiliation “one of the best new projects I have ever seen or supported” in 25 years of community work.
“It works on the ground,” Morton said. “Chris and Ben have a very rare combination of aesthetic and business sensibilities, combined with an extraordinary work ethic and gift for reaching out to gang-affiliated youth.”
Horn appreciates Morton’s guidance.
“He makes us solve our own issues,” Horn said. “He’ll say, ‘What do you think you should do?’ It helps us have ownership of every decision we make. Every step of the way since sophomore year, he’s been incredible.”
This year, No Affiliation’s portable recording equipment has been stored in the living room of the house Horn rents off campus. Three to four nights a week, he brings it to sessions around the state. Sometimes, when he returns home from studying, he finds a teenager waiting on the steps, eager to record.
In June, Horn will begin a management training program with Starwood Hotels and Resorts at the Sheraton New York, and Kreczko will be a financial analyst with The Hartford in Hartford, Conn. Both hope to keep No Affiliation running through local volunteers, with Horn vowing to spend his days off in Providence.
“There’s no other option,” Horn said. “I’m not going to give it up.”
— Vicki-Ann Downing
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