Annie Jupiter-Jones sat on the floor in an auditorium inside John O’Connell High School, legs outstretched, as she shook her arms back and forth. Little kids around a circle followed Jupiter-Jones’ lead, laughing as they shook their arms.
It was an icebreaker game to get everyone dancing on the first day of Loco Bloco’s Hella Carnaval practices in February. Jupiter-Jones, Loco Bloco’s executive director, has taught the “Carnaval Bloquito” classes to children ages 3-5 as they prepare for San Francisco’s Carnaval, which will take place May 25-26 in the Mission.
Jupiter-Jones, who was raised in the Mission, has been participating since her teen years in Carnaval with Loco Bloco, a Mission-based nonprofit that uses the arts to help empower youth of color. This year, she is trying to get the roughly 100 people that have joined Loco Bloco’s Carnaval contingent to showcase and honor the Mission community in San Francisco through their dancing, drumming, and stilt walking.
This year marks the 19th year of participating in Carnaval for Loco Bloco. Members of the group have spent the spring preparing with weekly rehearsals at John O’Connell High School. Among them are Loco Bloco’s youth apprentices, teenagers who have been involved with Loco Bloco for years and help lead the Carnaval classes.
Ahkeel Mestayer, 17, who attends the San Francisco School of the Arts, was drawn to Loco Bloco because he wanted to drum. Now as a youth apprentice, he spent the classes and performances this spring at the front of the group of drummers, helping the newcomers prepare for their first Carnaval. His experience with Loco Bloco has motivated him to pursue music at the School of the Arts. This year, he is helping to compose some of the music for Carnaval.
“It’s been a crucial part of my development,” Mestayer said. “The people here are like my second family.”
In March, after a month of Carnaval practices, Mestayer and other long-time members of Loco Bloco gathered at Buena Vista Horace Mann School to perform at the Exploratorium’s “On The Move,” a mobile extravaganza staged by the museum. Saluzdina “Salad” Banderas, 20, smiled as she sat on a ledge and waited for Loco Bloco’s first performance of the day.
Banderas joined Loco Bloco at age 11 by chance. She was sitting in her Mission District house when she heard music down the street. She followed the noise and found Loco Bloco — and a whole new passion.
She joined the Carnaval classes, dancing, drumming, and stilt walking because she could not pick between the three. After taking a few years off from Loco Bloco to work, Banderas knew she wanted to get involved again this year.
“It’s definitely opened up my horizons to what I can do and what I can be,” Banderas said.
At Buena Vista Horace Mann, a crowd gathered for what would be a preview of Carnaval. Banderas and the rest of the Loco Bloco group started on stage dancing to the beat as the sound of drums filled the playground. Then the group formed into a procession and, with the drummers in the lead, left the stage to parade around the school, encouraging the audience to join in the celebration.
“Loco Bloco has grown up in the Mission,” Banderas said. “When people hear us, they know we’re representing the Mission.”
Carnaval will take place May 25 and 26 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Harrison Street between 16th and 24th Streets.