If you give a child a microphone, an instrument, or an FM radio station, how might it change the course of their life?
East Boston-based non-profit Zumix has been exploring that philosophy for 25 years now, making waves in the local community and on air with a new FM signal. On Friday, Zumix will celebrate their 25th anniversary with a celebration of all things radio: Boston DJ’s for ZUMIX, an event where DJs past and present will come together to support 94.9FM.
Zumix Co-Founder Madeleine Steczynski and Community Arts and Events Coordinator Jeeyoon Kim joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to chat about Zumix's accomplishments and its goals moving forward.
This excerpt has been edited for clarity.
JIM: How did this start?
STECZYNSKI: Well, it snowballed out of a very small conversation at a dinner party. I was trying to talk with friends about the issue of gang violence in the city of Boston and what everyday people could do to sort of plug in and be of service to young people in the city. At that party, we had a bunch of musicians and friends and artists over, and there was a spark of an idea that if young people had access to guitars and other instruments, there would be no need for them to have guns. They need to belong to something, and be passionate about something, and be good at something.
JIM: Did you believe that, or you hoped that was true?
STECZYNSKI: Oh, I believed that wholeheartedly.
JIM: So 25 years later … is the goal to create a musician or a radio person, or is the feeling that integrating these kinds of things in your life creates a better person, whether you choose that path or not?
KIM: Definitely the latter, I would say, is more of our philosophy. Not to create world-class virtuoso musicians or top-notch award-winning radio producers — that might happen in the process — but that’s really the basis for our teachers, really to create an inclusive, safe, supportive environment, and with that, the rest will come.
JIM: Are there successes? I don’t mean to name-names kind of thing…
STECZYNSKI: I have a list of names, but I didn’t bring them. Absolutely, there have been some really amazing success stories, from educational attainment to people traveling the world because the skills that they’ve learned are sort of like a passport.
JIM: Why does it work?
STECZYNSKI: I think because it’s an incredibly creative playground that we’ve created for people to plug into and learn. What you get out of engaging is a passion for lifelong learning, for experimenting, for teamwork, for problem-solving, and so you’ll see, if you visit in the afternoon, you’ll see the initiative of young people doing their own projects and learning on their own accord and sort of educating themselves in a way that they self-direct, which is very different. It always blows my mind that kids have been in school since seven in the morning, and they’ve been asked to sit down and listen and absorb information, and then after that at 2-3 o’clock in the afternoon when they get out, they choose to come and for another four hours they’re educating themselves on their own terms.
MARGERY: It reminds me a lot of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, they do a very similar kind of thing. A lot of music has come out of there, a lot of dancing, a lot of creativity. The big thing is, it’s a place to go after school.
KIM: I think part of it is not only that arts is being dwindled out of public schools, but even our young people who go to Boston Arts Academy, art-centric schools, they still can’t get enough. They have arts all day in their school, and they still come. It’s hard to get everyone to leave when it’s closing time at Zumix — they can’t get enough of it.
MARGERY: What time do you close?
KIM: Eight o’clock.
MARGERY: So they’d stay until 11 if they could, some of these kids?
KIM: Oh, they would love it! They couldn’t be happier.
STECZYNSKI: Years ago when we were still working out of our home, I opened the back door one morning where I used to sit outside and have my tea in the morning, and I opened the back door and hit something that felt like a sack of potatoes. I looked around the door, and one of our kids was curled up sleeping outside of our door. I asked what happened, and he said ‘I got in a fight with my mom and I left home.' I asked why he didn’t at least knock on the door and tell us, and he said he didn’t want to bother us. I said come on in, we need to talk this through, and then when we were talking, I said, ‘you realize I have to call your mother…’ so I called his mom, and we brought his mom over and made amends, and everything was fine, but the kids that come really consider it their second home. We have been raising kids for 25 years through this medium of arts.
ZUMIX is an East Boston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to building a community through music and the arts. To hear co-founder Madeleine Steczynski and Community Arts and Events Coordinator Jeeyoon Kim’s full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio player above.