Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Omar Torres-Kortright has been working as a music promoter in Chicago since 2003 when he founded Agúzate, an organization dedicated to the promotion of independent Latin music in Chicago with an emphasis on Afro-Latin culture. Through Agúzate, Omar collaborated and co-curated events with the most distinguished international music programmers in Chicago, including Old Town School of Folk Music, Sound Culture, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and Hothouse.
After extensive work in the field of culturally-appropriate healthcare both locally with Lurie Children’s Hospital (2004-2015) and nationally with the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (2012-2014, Omar Torres-Kortright felt it was necessary to begin a new chapter in his professional life, choosing to work more closely with the Puerto Rican community and the cultural sector. He joined SRBCC as Executive Director in 2015 after serving 5 years on the Board of Directors and volunteering for almost the entire time that he has lived in Chicago (2000-Present).
Since Omar’s arrival at SRBCC, the organization has faced monumental challenges. As a historically Puerto Rican institution, the devastation caused by Hurricane María in 2017 presented a problem that required the attention of every organized group in the Puerto Rican diaspora.
During this very critical time, Omar became actively involved in the Chicago-lead recovery efforts as part of the core leadership team of the Puerto Rican Agenda from 2017 to 2019, where he served as co-chair of the Arts and Culture Committee and was directly involved in the creation of an SRBCC-fiscally sponsored fund 3Rs (rescue, relief, rebuild) for PR. The 3Rs for Puerto Rico campaign raised over $400,000 under Segundo Ruiz Belvis’ 501(C)(3) fiscal sponsorship. These funds were distributed in the form of grants that went from $2,000 for small local initiatives in affected communities to $40,000 to support a Hurricane-resilient community center in the town of Comerío, located in the mountainous center of the island. Today the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago has its own 501(c)(3) status, thanks in great part to the work completed during Omar’s time with the core leadership team and SRBCC’s fiscal sponsorship.
An additional independent SRBCC fund, Chicago Hurricane Aid for Puerto Rican Arts, raised over $50,000. These funds were invested in residencies supporting collaborations between local and touring artists of Puerto Rican descent.
At the same time that SRBCC was navigating a devastating impact in its financial security caused by a complete and sudden halt in performances, workshops, field trips, hall rentals and most sources of earned income, Omar never gave up on his idea to continue operating virtually, even when there was significant uncertainty in this new untested model.
SRBCC’s Youth Programs in partnership with After School Matters transitioned successfully to virtual classes, which included frequent check-ins and both virtual and in-person peer support groups lead psychology Schweitzer Fellow Loíza de Jesus in addition to the teens’ regularly scheduled music-focused apprenticeships.
This allowed the center to support the mental health of teens at a time when the number of cases of anxiety and depression among teens is higher than it’s ever been.
Torres-Kortright produced a series of monthly virtual concerts from June to December 2020 with the primary intention of helping artists from the community get back to playing and performing in the safest way possible. This is how the Abrazo Virtual Live Music Series was launched in June 2020, bringing free live music performances to thousands of homes, featuring local artists of color.
Loíza de Jesús
Schweitzer Fellow/Youth Programs
The Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center is hosting a Schweitzer Fellow! This prestigious public health fellowship is designed to allow for the collaborative establishment of a community-based project. SRBCC’s Fellow, Loíza DeJesús, is currently completing a Master of Arts in General Psychology at Roosevelt University. Together, Loíza and SRBCC leadership have worked to create a community-based, culturally rooted, psycho-social intervention for at-risk CPS high school students.
The project will function as a supplement to SRBCC’s existing Music Apprenticeship programs. Youth engaged in the apprenticeships will have the opportunity to participate in peer-support groups, one-on-one mentoring, and skill development, with stipends earned for their time commitment. Youth participants will develop increased self-esteem, build on their coping and life skills, and learn to find and use essential community resources for themselves and others. We intend to expand the program into a wellness-promoters model with youth serving as peer-educators, leaders, and advocates, always in the context of the arts.
Afro-Latin Percussion / After School Programs
Musical Director, Los Pleneros de Don Segundo and Co-director of The Ruiz Belvis Collective
Michael has dedicated most of his professional life to building community-based education programs focusing on Afro-Latin percussion in Chicago. He founded El Ritmo School of Latin Percussion over a decade ago to teach free weekly percussion classes in the Humboldt Park, Hermosa, and Logan Square. El Ritmo now has a permanent home at Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, a natural partner for the initiative. Michael plays for a number of local bands, including Los Pleneros de Don Segundo, and The Ruiz Belvis Collective.
Afro-Caribbean Jazz Program Director
Musical Director of The Ruiz Belvis Collective
Adrian Ruiz started playing piano at the age of 16 in his high school Jazz Band which is where he discovered his passion for music. He won the Ravinia Jazz Scholar award his junior and senior year in high school.
A student of piano giant Willie Pickens, from The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Adrian started playing professionally at the age of 19. His young career includes a 2006 recording with internationally-renowned Chicago trombonist Vincent Gardner.
In the last 10 years, Adrian Ruiz has shared the stage as pianist for the top tier of Salsa and Jazz, including Frank Catalano, Von Freeman, Luis ‘Perico’ Ortiz, Ernie Adams, Frankie Vázquez, Frankie Negrón, Alison Ruble, The Drifters, Tony Vega, Pedrito Martínez, Víctor Miranda, Grammy-Nominated Angel Meléndez and his Mambo 911 Orchestra, and Grammy Winners Roberto Vizcaino, and Raul Pineda.