Strategy This strategy focuses on taking at-risk youth off the street, turning them away from a life of crime…
This strategy focuses on taking at-risk youth off the street, turning them away from a life of crime, and giving them positive role models by offering them healthy, more positive alternatives through music.
Community Problem Addressed
Without positive role models or healthy activities (not only sports), youth in impoverished neighborhoods may turn to drugs, gangs, and crime. Schools do their best, but it is too much for them to do alone. Local communities must find ways to help take at-risk youth off the street.
To help educate, challenge, and find interesting activities for children, a local champion for this strategy can research the history of the arts in the region and reach out to local talent. Focusing on local arts history can motivate both children and adults to get involved and help develop community pride. Searching out local talent such as musicians and artists is a way to encourage positive interactions and encourage respect for a variety of cultural traditions. Teaching music and the performing arts develops talent and self-esteem among the participating youth.
Local museums, community centers, theaters, and schools have resources that can be used to sponsor activities. Teachers, local musicians, children, parents, and community members all play a vital role in developing a structured program. Local businesses can sponsor events and local media can help promote activities.
Communities may have problems finding instruments or space to practice or perform, but with public awareness campaigns the surrounding communities can help make donations. It is also a challenge to keep children and parents committed.
Examples of Success and Results
In Clarksdale, Mississippi [population 20,000], there are two programs that work in conjunction with each other to bring the rich local heritage of the Delta Blues tradition to at-risk youth, giving them a healthy alternative to the streets. Developed in 1992, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a small group of local musicians established the Delta Blues Education Program (DBEP). This program offers free instruments and instruction to over 120 area youth from six area schools. Ninety-five percent of the students come from impoverished families and range in age from nine to 19. The program offers daytime, after-school and summer activities for students who become apprentices. Instructors are local musicians who care about the future of their children and are able to communicate to a passion and respect for life through their music. The program is free, but students must make a personal commitment to uphold a personal and professional conduct agreement that is also part of the blues tradition. In addition to teaching music, instructors provide lessons in personal conduct, money management, and effective communication skills.
This program has been so successful that the local museum has started a similar program that now has 25 students. The Delta Blues Museum Program works in conjunction with the Delta Blues Education Fund to offer more lessons and space for children to rehearse and perform.
Some youth that have been trained in the Delta Blues tradition through these programs have gone on to become professional musicians and are performing in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Illinois. They regularly perform in local concerts, have been on television, have played competitively with student musicians from all over the world, and have even made a CD. The money made from the performance is put into an established trust fund that is given back to the apprentices. In some cases, the apprentices have made significant financial contributions to their families.
Johnnie Billington, one of the instructors and a professional blues musician, described the importance of the program this way: “It’s better to put a guitar in a child’s hand than a gun.”