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Keeping the Beat in Cuban Classrooms

During the educational workshop, members of a local Cuban salsa band assisted Global Citizen Adventure Corps Co-Founder and percussionist Julie Hill. Students enjoyed the new equipment and t-shirts provided by Innovative Percussion, Remo Corporation, Yamaha Corporation, and Zildjian Cymbals and transported to the rural site by the GCAC team. Seen here are (back row, left to right) Robert Miller, Stacie Freeman, Dennis Estévez, Yoandi Gómez, Braydis Rodríguez; (front row, left to right) Royet Marquez, Mauricio Roque Piney, Diosmel Pablo Miranda, Keyla Reinoso Acosta, Mia de las Mercedes Antiguas, Daniel Raúl Chala, Mauro Luis Barrizonte, Jan Manuel Hondares Cortés, Samuel de Jesús Ramírez, Osvaldo Revuelta Delgado, Lazaro Osniel Correa, Jesus Hernandez, Lynn Alexander, Julie Hill, Lazaro Rivero, Yaniel Lewis, Elier Gonzalez (kneeling). Photo courtesy of Joel Washburn

By Karen Campbell

Special to The Enterprise

Julie Hill has more than 27 years of experience as a music educator, scholar, performer, lecturer, administrator, and non-profit arts leader/advocate. And a recent exploratory excursion to Cuba had the Union City resident tapping into all those roles as she, fellow Global Citizen Adventure Corps co-founder Stacie Freeman of Dresden and members of the nonprofit’s board of directors, sought opportunities to shape future visits to the country.

GCAC is dedicated to offering economically-disadvantaged youth the opportunity for travel service-learning. Hill, Freeman, and the board seek to raise funds for scholarships so that students – particularly those from rural areas – can experience other cultures and see firsthand a variety of worldviews.

Hill is drawn to working with fellow music educators and supporting their efforts. In Cuba, that meant addressing a critical need for instruments.

“Every musician knows the sounds you make can only be as good as his or her instrument allows,” she noted after recently returning from the mid-October journey. “And the students we encountered in rural Cuba were depending on damaged and worn instruments.”

When she learned of the plight of her fellow educators in-country, Hill turned to her connections as a music education and performing artist representative for Innovative Percussion, Remo Corporation, Yamaha Corporation, and Zildjian Cymbals. The companies ultimately sent an estimated $10,000 in educational resources ranging from drumset to timbale sticks, from drumheads to cymbals and various t-shirts and instructional posters.

When the group of eight landed in Havana so did 15 suitcases filled with the needed music resources and requested medical supplies for Viñales, the gateway community to the Sierra de los Organos mountains and the Viñales Valley and a UNESCO World Heritage site for agriculture and arts.

 Before packing the van for travel to the Valley, they first explored the Cuban culture of Old Havana, particularly music and dance. Hill, as both a professional percussionist and a researcher, was aware of the impact of the Transatlantic slave trade on music and culture today. Though she had a long history of studying the impact of Africans in Northeastern Brazil, she had no first-hand experience in Cuba.

The program participants learned Cuba was the largest slave colony in all of Hispanic America, with the highest number of enslaved persons imported and the longest duration of the illegal slave trade. About 800,000 slaves were imported to Cuba—twice as many as those shipped to the United States.

“You’ve often heard, ‘people make the place,’” Hill noted. “So, exploring the influence of slavery in Cuba is an absolute must on our GCAC programs which are all dedicated to exploring local culture and providing our participants with meaningful experiences inside those cultures – in Cuba this means music!”

While in the Valley that has now been determined as the future home base for GCAC programs in 2024 and beyond, Hill helped lead a one-day workshop for 40 participants covering rhythmic fundamentals of Cuban music styles. Each of the resource donors agreed to continue to support the ongoing relationship with the music program at Escuela Profesional de Arte Pedro Raúl Sánchez which includes students from third through ninth grades.

“I’m excited that GCAC in the coming years will be a conduit for cultural exchanges for those who make it their business to support music education and for those from rural West Tennessee and beyond who will be equally invested in planting seeds of learning between the two agricultural communities,” she concluded. “We have definitely laid the groundwork for fun and meaningful service in future programs.”

Accompanying Hill and Freeman were board chair Martha Edinger and husband Sandy of Lakewood Ranch, Fla.; board vice chair Joel Washburn and wife Teresa of McKenzie, Tenn.; board member Lynn Alexander of Martin, Tenn.; and Robert Miller of Paris, Tenn. The volunteers donated hundreds of dollars in the requested vitamins, first aid, and pediatric medical supplies.

Global Citizen Adventure Corps is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to cultivating global citizens through education, service, and travel. By offering transferable college credit and donor-funded scholarships, GCAC actively builds pathways between rural high schools, universities, and a robust network of global nonprofit partners to provide travel program opportunities to underserved students. For more information visit

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