Main Entrance Hall of the AfroReggae Cultural Group Center.
Our host at the AfroReggae Center, Eve Belanger (the Coordinator of International Partnerships), described how the Center grew out of the drug trafficking, crime, and associated violence in Vigário Geral. In 1993, increasing tensions between Brazilian police and drug lords in Vigário Geral erupted in two pivotal sets of murders. First, 4 policemen were murdered by members of the drug cartel in Vigário Geral. In response, the police came into the favela and shot 21 residents in what is now called “the massacre”. These citizens were believed to be innocent and not connected to drugs and crime.
Favela from above.
This massacre forever changed the history of Vigário Geral. Out of the grief and horror of the massacre, Anderson Sa and citizens of Vigário Geral decided to honor their heritage and culture, their African and Reggae roots. The movement began as a newspaper and small-scale music and drum performances, and it grew into a community center and diverse community training programs that are fueled by passion of music and nonviolence. The Center was established on January 21, in honor of the 21 murdered citizens.
We visited the original AfroReggae Cultural Group in Vigário Geral. Now, there are multiple locations in other favelas in Rio de Janeiro. This parent location grew from a small residential site to an enormous community center. Their programming includes musical programs, social programs, educational programs, and training programs. Eve said that all programs are free and have only a couple of rules:
1. To be involved with the Center, youth must lead a life free of crime.
2. When coming to the Center for the first time, children must be accompanied by an adult (this adult does not need to be the child’s parent).
Eve described that one of their primary goals was to increase the average age of first pregnancy in the favela. When the Center first began, Eve said that women in the favela typically became pregnant at age 14, and that they have shifted the average age to 21. She said they feel this is still too young, because young women will not have had the opportunity at age 21 to have completed college.
We were welcomed by an outstanding performance by the AfroReggae drum corps. They performed on hand-made drums and drumsticks made out of bamboo. I will also post a link to the video of their performance.
Drummers perform in the outside performance hall of the AfroReggae Center.
Group photo of the Drum Corps and the American Delegation.
Here is a rough translation of the Manifesto of AfroReggae Cultural Group:
The planet, a large slum.
The man remains inhuman.
Everything seems tailor-
to go wrong.
But no utopia.
believe in transformation.
Change rifle by berimbau.
Knock down all borders
of vitality and joy.
give birth to freedom
and proud to be what one is.
Fighting for the right side of the wrong life.
For a life without hand.
Lifetime of whole persons.
Because no one needs to be what it is not.
Fighting, even only,
because no one is alone.
Human connections, urban connections.