'Guitars Over Guns' Replaces Violence With Music To Keep At-Risk Kids In School

04/08/2015 02:43 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2015
Jason Koerner

A musician is bringing some sweet sounds to young students in need.

Musician Chad Bernstein, together with his father, Bob Bernstein, founded Guitars Over Guns (GOGO), a mentorship program that provides at-risk students in Miami and Chicago with music education, in 2008. The organization promotes music as an alternative to violence, and aims to keep kids off the street and in school. Over the past seven years, GOGO has worked with more than 240 students, helping to reduce dropout rates, increase their school GPA and school attendance, according to its site.

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GOGO students work with professional musicians and mentors on what the organization calls its “three pillars: mentoring, instrument instruction, and ensemble training.” The program began in Miami to benefit young adults in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and expanded to a chapter Chicago in fall 2014. A professional musician himself, who has worked with top artists like Pharell, Shakira and Pitbull, Bernstein started the organization “to use music as a tool to help transcend the cultural, religious, and social barriers.”

GOGO teaches students how to play a range of instruments, as well as music skills, including guitar, keyboard, trumpet, singing and music production. Students are paired up with a mentor to focus on one of these skills, and they work together throughout the school year. The young musicians then have the opportunity to showcase their talents in student concerts. Guitars Over Guns encourages students to “choose your sound,” and use music as something positive to combat sadness, frustration and negativity.

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It's so apparent that they feel like they found something they can identify themselves through, the arts and music,” Bernstein told Miami New Times in an interview last summer. “And a sense of belonging and ownership goes a really long way in making these kids leaders who have the confidence to make the right choice.”

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