More than a hundred people showed support at a benefit concert in Miami Beach on Saturday, promoting music as an alternative to violence in streets.
The concert aided Guitars Over Guns, a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring and education to keep teenagers away from harmful influences like drugs and violence that usually dominate their neighborhoods. The group, also called GOGO, was started in 2008 and provides after-school mentoring thanks to the donations and a partnership with Miami Dade County.
The benefit concert, Choose Your Sound, invited students from the organization to also become part of the show and play in front of crowd to show how much they have improved their skills while doing what saved their lives.
Spam AllStarts band, directed by DJ Spam, kept the crowd on its feet all night among other Latin awarded bands such as Suénalo.
“Everyone who wants to be part of the mentoring [organization] needs to pass an audition,” said José Javier Freire, a mentor at the organization and a founder of the Latin Grammy-winning Miami-based band Bacilo’s. “We give an opportunity to everyone that really wants to be an artist or musician. It truly amazes me how some kids have the power to change their habits and lives. Some of them barely know how to read and have many difficulties learning, but music helped them with the process and is their unique and special way of expressing themselves and telling their personal stories.”
According to Guitars over Guns, 467,231 people were victims of crimes committed with firearms in 2011. Chad Bernestein, president and founder of the organization, said that the only thing the mentors have in common with those underprivileged kids is music.
“Several kids wrote us letter saying how grateful they are to have found a place where they can be safe and learn how to do something productive, positive and that they also love,” said Bernstein, also a musician and director of Guitars Over Guns.
Bernstein said the programs gives the kids someone to look up to and talk to. They see that it is possible to make your dreams come true, and they see that in order to do, you have to be responsible.
“They listen to us, and watching them experiencing the same euphoria I feel when I am on stage is worth everything.” said Bernstein.
The Guitars over Guns organization’s mission is not only to mentor kids but also to reduce dropout rates and devote time to the underprivileged.
According to the GOGO, the Chicago public school system is its next target area to keep helping communities and mentoring children. The organization is also partnered with Communities in Schools, which selects the schools most in need of the program, provides mentor training and helps provide the students with instruments and services to ensure their success in and outside of school.
“We meet with students twice a week and provide one-on-one mentoring, music theory, instrumental instruction and performing opportunities during our sessions, so they little by little become more comfortable with themselves,” said Freire.
Suénalo, the Latin funk Fusion Jam band, also supported the event and played a multicultural cocktail of sound that captured Miami’s sound perfectly.
The Puerto Rican vocalist Amin De Jesus from Suénalo, said teaching students to rap about their lives instead of just talking about guns or cars is rewarding.
“Once they understand that rap it is about their lives, and it can also be a way of expressing how they feel, they learn how to be creative, and at the end of the process they feel comfortable and happy with their pieces,” said De Jesus. “Thanks to the program, we did a lot of changes, but at the end, it is all about the kids’ effort and passion.”
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