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Bronx Police and Young People Bridge Gap With Jam Session

By Eddie Small | November 4, 2014 5:11pm
 MWAM will perform with officers from the 42nd Precinct at a concert this weekend.
MWAM will perform with officers from the 42nd Precinct at a concert this weekend.
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Bervin Harris

SOUTH BRONX — When members of The Bronx youth band Music With a Message first got together with the officers of the 42nd Precinct for a jam session the energy was a little flat.

The idea behind bringing the two groups together was to bridge the gap between young people in the community and the police department through something other than a sporting event, Renaissance Youth Center co-director Bervin Harris said, but reception was a little cold.

"When they walked in, no one spoke to anybody," he said. "Kids were like, 'Why are they here?' Nobody said anything."

However, once the police and young musicians actually started playing together, the barriers between the two groups began breaking down.

"Kids are now looking at these officers differently," said Harris. "We had one kid say specifically, 'I don’t like police officers, but you’re cool.' The kid was a guitarist, and the officer was a guitarist."

Now MWAM, a group of about 25 musicians between ages six and 21, will go on stage with officers from the 42nd Precinct on Saturday, Nov. 8 for a concert at the Renaissance Youth Center, located within the precinct at 3485 Third Ave.

MWAM usually plays around 100 shows per year at local and out-of-state venues, and their socially conscious songs include "The Bronx Is A Beautiful Place To Be" and "Pull Your Pants Up."

The Nov. 8 recital starts at the Youth Center around 10 a.m. and will include several different performances with genres ranging from salsa to jazz to R&B. MWAM will likely go on with the officers around 1:15 p.m.

Al-lisha Burns, a 17-year-old singer in the band, said she was excited for the concert and viewed it as an opportunity to help unite police and community members.

Although Burns said that she felt very comfortable around police, she acknowledged that many people her age are not huge fans of the NYPD.

"They don’t really want to deal with the police too much," she said. "They don’t really like them."

The concert is meant to help get rid of this antagonism, according to Captain Steven Ortiz, commanding officer of the 42nd Precinct.

"Part of it is to show that, listen, we are human, also. We do interact with the public," he said. "As a police officer, it’s a job for us, but at the same time, we are real people, and we do other things than police work."

Performing police will be Officer Michael Breeding on trumpet, Officer Sandy Nunez on drums, Officer Scarlet Del Vecchio on piano and Officer Ray Soriano on guitar.

Soriano, who has played guitar for 11 years, said he was impressed with the young musicians' talent and behavior.

"They can kick my ass playing," he said. "They're great."

If this concert goes well, Harris said he would like to have another one in the winter that includes officers from other precincts throughout The Bronx.

"We might want to make this borough-wide if this comes out halfway decent," he said. "Which it will."