Before the Miami Marlins start their series against the Philadelphia Phillies — their final three-game set ahead of the All-Star break — pay attention to the group that will make its way to the field to sing the national anthem Friday night.
The group of middle schoolers has worked for quite some time for this moment. The nerves will set in for this young group, most of whom are just beginning or about to start their teenage years.
But these kids, students who have participated in the nonprofit organization Guitars Over Guns, are ready to soak in the moment of their young lifetime as the Marlins recognizing the organization Friday for one of their Charity Partner Days.
“Those are life-defining moments, for sure,” Guitars Over Guns CEO and founder Chad Bernstein said. “I think that we as an organization always prepare for the opportunity to have something to really put all the work we’re doing to the test. It doesn’t get more vulnerable than standing in front of thousands of people and delivering one of the most important pieces of music that we know as a country.”
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In addition to singing the national anthem, Guitars Over Guns will receive $25,000 from the Marlins.
Bernstein said his inspiration to start the charity began in 2006 when he and fellow musicians visited kids in juvenile detention to talk to them about careers in music. He remembers the kids seeming disinterested early on.
And then the music started.
“As soon as we stated playing music,” Bernstein said, “we realized we can kind of open up all the doors of conversation through finding that common ground. That inspired the organization to start from the prospective of ‘How do we impact kids before they make the decisions that will land them here?’”
Two years later, Guitars over Guns began with a program at North Miami Middle School. Now, just 10 years later, Bernstein said the organization has about 40 mentors working with about 700 kids in Miami and Chicago. Most of the students are in middle school. The program’s curriculum has expanded from solely music to also include dance and visual arts. Bernstein said he expects the number of students the organization works with to grow next year.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Bernstein said of the growth of the organization. “I think it’s reflective of the need. I think there’s something incredibly powerful about music’s ability to reach people and connect people and transform people. The fact that that’s being taken out of the academic spectrum for lack of a better word, the students are definitely craving that.”
The Marlins began the Charity Partner program in 2012, their first season at Marlins Park.
An internal Marlins Charity Partner Review Committee that is comprised of select executives and staff determines which organizations and foundations will be selected as Charity Partners each year. According to Jason Latimer, the Marlins’ vice president of communication and outreach, the Marlins received 128 applications during the offseason. After each was reviewed, the list was narrowed to four to serve as Charity Partners this year.
The other three, in addition to Guitars over Guns, that are being recognized this year are Dibia DREAM, Special Olympics Florida and The Education Fund.
The Marlins also hosted Guitars Over Guns’ graduation ceremony at the ballpark last month.
They will be back on that field Friday, ready for their next test.
“It’s really the embodiment of everything that they’ve worked toward. It’s an opportunity that they’ve earned and that they’ve worked hard for and one that will certainly test them in all the right ways. These are the experiences that your knees may be shaking before you go on stage, but you have that fight or flight moment, you stick with it and you knock it out of the part. From there forward, you know you can accomplish this and so much more.”