Asbury Park launches fundraiser to send students on cultural exchange in Cuba

     Old Havana, Cuba. (Photo: Alan Kotok/runneralan via Flickr)

    Old Havana, Cuba. (Photo: Alan Kotok/runneralan via Flickr)

    Former Asbury Park Mayor Ed Johnson says the arts can help in normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. 

    And Johnson believes that music students from the revitalizing Asbury Park, where they are active participants and volunteers in community events, can be instrumental during the process.

    That’s why Johnson — who operates the Local-2-Global Initiative, which seeks to “connect Main Street with the global community” — is supporting the combined fundraising effort of the Asbury Park School District and the Asbury Park Music Foundation to send Asbury Park High School students on a cultural exchange in Cuba. 

    “These young people are going to be able to go there and make relationships and grow relationships,” Johnson said during a telephone interview. “That’s the way forward to creating a better way forward for the United States and Cuba.”

    The fundraiser seeks $70,000 to fund all travel costs for 20 Asbury Park High School students and supervisors for a trip to a local music school in Havana, Cuba and attendance at the Havana International Jazz Festival in December.

    According to the fundraising page: 

    The Asbury Park School District’s College and Career Readiness Institute will provide experiential learning opportunities for student growth by assigning students roles in film, music, writing and cultural activities while in Cuba. Students will have a behind the scenes look at the music industry including event production, coordination and management. Students will work with the Asbury Park Music Foundation to document the trip on video, write articles about their experience for local newspapers, and visit local schools to interact with the Cuban youth. Upon their return, students will work with the Asbury Park Music Foundation, by volunteering at the 2016 Asbury Park Music in Film Festival and the Local-2-Global Initiative.

    Johnson says the cultural exchange trip, which is also open to the public, will provide invaluable perspective on international relations to the students, most of whom, he says, have never left Monmouth County. 

    “Sometimes, we get in the way of change,” he said, alluding to the political process. “When you leave two people together, they work things out. They are going to plant the seed to grow relationships.”

    While Johnson acknowledges that the fundraiser seeks a substantial sum, he’s confident that the goal can be met through a grassroots effort. 

    “People see a huge goal. We’re not looking for a $60,000 check from one individual,” he said. “If everyone got together and made a small donation, we would fund the student trip.”

    “It’s about connecting our kids.”

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