“This gave me an opportunity to meet the police and have them get involved.They really didn’t know what we were doing so that was really awesome, and they’re always looking for activities for the youth and they were unaware of how much we were doing.” – Omar Torres, Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center
For 45 years, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center has provided Afro-Latin arts and culture to a neighborhood surrounded by gang activity and crime. In 2017, Executive Director Omar Torres applied for the Safe & Peaceful Communities Grant to extend the stay of artists in residence through the MacArthur International Connections program, Y No Había Luz, a leading masks and theater group from Puerto Rico.
“We got amazing news late that May that we were getting this grant, so we extended the stay of these professional artists to a point that they could present at the Puerto Rican parade,” says Torres.
In addition to a summer filled with puppet-making workshops for the community hosted by Y No Había Luz, the extension also fostered a partnership with the 25th district of the Chicago Police Department. The collaboration included a series of meetings between the center and the district’s community relations staff. Officers even participated in the puppet-making workshops.
“This gave me an opportunity to meet the police and have them get involved,” says Torres. “They really didn’t know what we were doing so that was really awesome and they’re always looking for activities for the youth and they were unaware of how much we were doing.”
Torres says the workshops were filled with participants ranging from children to elderly, including the busload of individuals the officers brought from their neighborhood. The officers supported the initiative by rolling up their sleeves to partake in puppet making so the center could complete its visual display for the Puerto Rican parade.
“We were creating these butterflies that were going to be on sticks and have some movement, so they thought that was something they could take on,” Torres recalls. “All their people gathered at tables and worked tirelessly on the butterflies. That was really incredible because, thanks to their work, we ended up with a lot of butterflies. It was a really nice visual.”
The center not only led the Puerto Rican parade but was invited by the district to perform at National Night Out, an annual campaign to promote and enhance relationships between police and communities.
“We were a huge hit over there,” Torres says. “Now, we’ve committed to go every year to the National Night Out and spend some time with police. We can give back for everything they do for us and fortify that relationship.”
The Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center has partnered with The Puerto Rican Agenda’s Hurricane Relief Effort: “Pallets and Planes” to provide hurricane relief for those affected by Hurricane Maria. The center hosted Puerto Rico Artist Hurricane Relief Fundraiser on October 19th to support professional artists affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Cassaundra Sampson is a writer with Rudd Resources