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Two students wanted to find a community at Howard. They’re now using music to build one.

Aurora Market, a mom-pop shop co-owned by a Howard graduate, hosts weekly jam sessions organized by Howard students to promote activism and community through music.

Once entering the jam session, everyone has the opportunity to play an instrument. Especially if you’ve never played one before. (Eliana Lewis/The Hilltop)

Down the street from Howard’s campus sits Aurora Market, a bright pink mom-and-pop shop that prides itself on supporting members of its community. 

On Tuesday nights, the store becomes a welcoming space for aspiring musicians, poets and other creatives. Howard students Joshua Hughes and Isaac Alecia have implemented weekly jam sessions to bridge the gap between artistry and community, encouraging students to embrace and find their most authentic selves.

The Jam Sessions act as an extension of their brand Artivism, explained as “social activism through art.”

“Basically these jam sessions are Artivism in action,” Hughes, a senior mathematics major and secondary education minor, said. Upon entering Aurora Market on 500 Irving St NW, those interested in the jam session are directed to the downstairs level where a lounge area is set up with various musical instruments. African drums, electric guitars, a keyboard and shakers are set up offering an instrument even to a novice player. 

“The business motto is social activism with artistic expression and so our goal is to bring people together to this space to not only make music and play instruments but do so in a way that builds camaraderie and build community,” Hughes said.

One of the co-owners of the store, Jamie Staton, is a Howard graduate from the Class of 2002. Staton and his business partner, Pablo Ortiz, freely offer their downstairs space. While both Hughes and Alecia work part-time at the store, Staton said that all members of the Howard community are welcome to use their space.

Staton not only graduated from Howard University but reportedly grew up down the street from the shop where he is now a co-owner. (Eliana Lewis/The Hilltop)

“If it’s some kind of motivation or space that you need to try and get your craft prepared to the next level, we’re here for you,” he said. Staton, a musical artist himself, believes artistry is “a second language.” The jam sessions present an opportunity for students and members of the D.C. community to gather together in this language even if they haven’t met each other before.

Kameron Outland, a sophomore TV and film major and Spanish minor from Houston found out about the event after talking to Hughes on the Yard. “I actually met Josh earlier today and he was telling me that this would be a great way to meet more artists,” he said. Wanting the opportunity to meet more artists, Outland “pulled up.” 

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Manny Suarez, a senior computer information systems major from Elizabeth, New Jersey missed the last Jam Session. Formally held at Sankofa: Video Books & Cafe, Suarez attended the event knowing he couldn’t miss another one. Suarez echoed a desire to connect with other artists, emphasizing the importance of such connection in regard to creativity. 

“Being a creative, a producer and making beats and stuff like that, you understand it’s a tight-knit community of other creatives that are like-minded like you and just get music on that same type of level,” he said. “Being around people, a community of people that understand that, chasing similar things, it’s good.”

In between sessions of trying out instruments to songs such as Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” participants at the session freestyled and learned from one another in a non-professional setting where the only requirement to join was to engage in personal freedom. 

Both Suarez and Outland felt as if the space not only connected them to other artists but also the opportunity for acceptance. “It’s an amazing space for artists, no judgment, just good vibes all around,” Outland said. 

Tahirrah Fennell, a junior music performance major, captivated everyone’s attention as she played her violin to the beat of a local music producer. (Eliana Lewis/The Hilltop)

“I say anyone that’s a creative, not just music but anyone who’s into anything in the arts, I’d say it’s just a great opportunity to be around like-minded folks,” Suarez said.

Though Artivism is currently the brand used by Hughes and Alecia to give back to their community, it didn’t begin as a brand. “Artivism didn’t start as a brand, it started an idea,” Alecia, a senior business management major from Pennsylvania, said. Hughes and Alecia graduated high school virtually in 2020 and entered their freshman year at Howard online.

“That first year was hard, I felt like I didn’t have a community at Howard. I took every class online in my own room,” Alecia said. He was still sitting alone in his room when he joined a virtual Barbershop Talk hosted by Men of the Mecca and met Hughes in a breakout room. “The topic was mental health through the pandemic and I was struggling with mental health at the time,” he said. 
Describing attending the event as a “leap of faith,” Alecia met Hughes in an assigned breakout room. “That one breakout room saved my life,” he said. “I was really struggling with anxiety and depression but that breakout room offered me a community and that’s what we do, we offer a way for people’s dreams to become reality.”

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Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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