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The Grand Rapids Press

Music To Inspire Dreams; Latino Students Celebrate Goals

By Nardy Baeza Bickel / The Grand Rapids Press

11 March 2005
Copyright © 2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

GRAND RAPIDS -- Without much introduction and holding onto a drum, Osvaldo "Ozzie" Rivera, 51, climbed the few stairs to the stage and started drumming out a Puerto Rican "bomba."

"I was born in Puerto Rico but grew up in Detroit," he recited as he played, gaining the full attention of about 1,000 high school students attending Thursday's Latino Youth Conference.

"I never want to forget where I came from," he said, adding that the music, and his roots, helped him become a successful college administrator at Madonna University in Livonia, a music producer and social worker.

"Hang on to your roots. Love yourself. You have riches in your family, in your culture. You have something to draw upon. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do it."

Rivera was this year's keynote speaker at the conference, attended by students from 18 Kent County school districts.

The annual conference, at Grand Rapids Community College's Ford Fieldhouse, is held to celebrate students' achievement and to encourage young Latinos and other minorities to stay in school and attend college.

This year, ninth- and 10th-graders were treated to several musical performances ranging from bomba to mariachi and South American music.

Performers included Batucada, a Grand Rapids band formed by area students to bring an anti-violence message to the community.

Rivera called on students to use their gifts for sports, music, art or other areas to discipline themselves, stay strong and gain an education.

Students seemed open to the musicians' words.

"It was very good. We were hearing the music, and we got to hear about how people get into gangs and how it's hard to get out," said Jinna Castillo, 15, a sophomore at Central High School.

She plans to become a fashion designer.

"And we learned how to start using your own gifts. ... You can go to college and get a degree and work on something you like," she added.

Francisco Pablo, 18, a student at Adelante High School and member of Batucada, said the group has an important role to play in the Latino community.

"(Music) opens new doors, and you got to do something for your community. You can't just hang out with your friends," Pablo said.

"This is what students want: They want something that is interesting, and music is a way to keep them close" and help them make good choices, said Ana Valdez, 15, a sophomore at Union High School.

She hopes to become a physician. "It was good. ... No, it was fantastic."

Event organizer Irma West said she was happy with the attendance.

"We have a great turnout today," she said.

For more information on Batucada, call 391-6264.

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