Making digital music: Walker Westand Ujamaa Placeteam up to teach

Article Courtesy of the Star Tribune

St. Paul community-based organizations seek to give young Black men more ways to succeed.

By James Walsh Star Tribune

JANUARY 19, 2024 — 6:15PM Wesley Sims, who loves making and recording music, is one of a handful of young men who has grabbed a chance to participate in the Digital Music Production (DMP) program, a new collaboration between Ujamaa Place and Walker West Music Academy.

“I’m a musician and an artist,” he said, adding that he especially enjoys the program’s hands-on elements. “Now that there’s a class for [digital production], it’s a no-brainer.”

That’s what the leaders of the two St. Paul-based organizations thought, too. Since its founding in 1988, Walker West’s goal has been to enrich the lives of young people through music. Ujamaa Place, which opened in 2010, seeks to give economic and personal stability to Black men between the ages of 18 and 30, many of whom have been in the criminal justice system.

A partnership between the two respected Black community organizations makes sense, said Michael Belton, Ujamaa’s interim chief operating officer.

“It’s another way to help them be successful,” Belton said.

Braxton Haulcy, Walker West’s executive director who recently joined Ujamaa’s board of directors, said the men in Ujamaa Place need the kind of programming that Walker West has been providing young people for years.

“When we talk about community, we don’t talk about men coming out of incarceration. But in the Black community, we have a higher proportion of young men who are incarcerated,” Haulcy said. “And when they come out, programs like Ujamaa Place are wonderful.”