Diverse creative programs provide alternatives for at-risk, inner-city youth

theGRIO REPORT - A rash of violent crimes in major cities like Philadelphia and Chicago have only highlighted the need to for creative programs to inspire and protect at-risk minority youth...

Stanford Thompson is on a mission.

He has dedicated himself to making it normal for a parent to say, “I want my kid to carry a violin after school,” every year.

“Most people do not understand the kind of work that goes into learning to play the violin,” he said. He wants it to become more normal for communities to request programs like his in their community centers or in their churches.

Thompson is the Executive Director of Play on Philly, an after-school program based in West Philadelphia. Founded in September of 2011, Thompson describes POP as primarily a classical music and jazz program. Every day, 5 days a week for 40 weeks, 110 kids participate in after school instruction for 3 hours.

“There is a social aspect built into the program. They learn in groups and perform in groups,” he said. “The kids have an opportunity to perform in the best venues throughout the city, and [be] instructed by the best teachers and conductors in the world.”

Philadelphia, Chicago, even Atlanta has seen its fair share of crime in the way of gun violence over the last few weeks.

During Memorial Day weekend, there were reports of several dozen shootings in Chicago. A total of 10 people were killed over the holiday weekend and more than 40 injured in the Midwest City. Chicago has developed quite a reputation for being an unsafe city. A report by the Grio showed that in April, Chicago police recorded a 60 percent spike in murders from January to March of 2012. By May 20, 192 murders were recorded in Chicago, a spike from last year when 126 killings had been recorded by the same time last year.

Philadelphia is no exception. During the same weekend, four people were shot in just 41 minutes, causing a scramble by police investigators. One of the victims, a 20 year old, was shot in the head and killed while riding a bike.

And in Stone Mountain, Ga, just outside of Atlanta, two people were killed and two were injured following the funeral of a 19-year-old on Thursday, June 7. According to news reports, attendees of the funeral were leaving the Victory for the World Church when an altercation broke out and shots were fired. What some consider ironic is that the pastor of the church, Kenneth L Samuel, had preached about the value of life and stopping the kind of violence that took place not long before.

Most of the victims of these instances have been young, African-American and Latino individuals. And all of that has occurred as funding towards education budgets, as well as crime risk programs, are being cut.

With all of this going on around the country, programs like POP are designed to provide an alternative for the young of these cities.

“It is pretty clear we work with at-risk youth in danger of going down the wrong path,” he said, adding that several of his students are in danger of dropping out of school and three are in danger of being in prison before their 19th birthday. “With after-school and pre-K programs being cut and with 54 schools being closed in Philadelphia those statistics will multiply to even more.”

Dantes Rameau, has a similar program and problem in Atlanta.

As Executive Director of the Atlanta Music Project, Rameau said they provide an intense music education program for at-risk youth right in their own neighborhoods.

“We are keeping kids safe after school and off the street by teaching them to play musical instruments,” he said. By learning to play these instruments, Rameau said the young people develop skills they can then apply to their regular lives

“Essentially, learning how to play an instrument well is essentially the practice of problem solving. To get better, you have to constantly listen to the way you play and analyze the way you play. And then figure out a path, action to get better,” he said. “Repetition leads to muscle memory. And then you have to perform. After awhile it becomes normal, you begin to break things down.”

This is the secret to how a music program can really give life skills to kids they work with.