The students in Guitars Over Guns, a Miami music program, had gathered at North Miami Middle School to talk about how overwhelmed they felt by the stream of shootings that were taking so many children like them. Then Xavier Gustave spoke up. “My cousin was shot and killed this year,” he told them.
“It was a breaking point,” says Guitars Over Guns leader Chad Bernstein. “The feeling was always there was nothing they could do about it. The students said, ‘We can’t continue to sit on the sidelines.’ So we talked about how art can be a medium … and how it can be really powerful to come together and unify our voices as one.”
One year later, 80 students from Guitars Over Guns, or GoGo, have raised their voices in “See You Again,” a heartbreaking music video that shows the pain of losing a loved one. The kids wrote new lyrics and sing, play and act in their remake of the popular Wiz Khalifa song. The video debuts Thursday at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, kicking off a new free community program night with live music from GoGo students. Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Miami Police Commander Francisco Fernandez will also speak at the event.
Gustave’s cousin, Jakyri Fleurimar, 15, was killed last August when a gun that a friend had taken out of its drawer went off accidentally.
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“There are no words for what it feels like to go through this or watch someone you care about go through this,” Bernstein says. “It’s really difficult for the students not to get numb. The fact they’d lost someone so close to them made us realize that every victim is close to somebody.”
The video, some of which was shot at North Miami Middle, one of nine GoGo sites in Miami-Dade, shows a brother, mother and girlfriend of an imaginary victim, played by Gustave, a tall boy with glasses, who keeps disappearing. Officers from the North Miami Police Department, who work with GoGo, appear in several scenes. We see the kids rapping at Noisematch Recording Studio in Wynwood, where the music was recorded. While the video was produced and directed by Dre Torres, the students — from North Miami, Jose de Diego and Citrus Grove middle schools — wrote new lyrics, came up with the storyline, and spent months rehearsing, writing and editing the video. Their words are powerful and personal.
I can only imagine how your family must feel, ’cause I’ve been waking up from nightmares, like how can this be real?
GoGo music student Justin Quiles in ‘See You Again’
“I can only imagine how your family must feel, ’cause I’ve been waking up from nightmares, like how can this be real?” raps Justin Quiles. We hear Gustave’s voice toward the end. “If I had one wish, it’s that the bullet would’ve missed you … maybe I’ll pray, and we can talk then, or maybe I’ll just tell you when I see you again.”
Since Bernstein started GoGo in 2008 — to help at-risk students use music and, more recently, dance and visual art to better deal with challenges at home and in school — he has expanded to Chicago and received a growing amount of awards, grants and media attention. But the violence that helped drive him to start GoGo has only gotten worse.
He hopes the experience of making “See You Again” will give his students hope and inspire them to do more.
“I hope it will empower them to realize the weight their voice has and the power of being unified,” Bernstein says. “Especially on the heels of ‘Moonlight’ winning the [Oscar] for best picture, it’s never seemed more possible for our youth to feel like their voice can be heard through art.”
If you go
What: PAMM Free Community Night: Guitars Over Guns
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Info: Free, pamm.org