Beyond the Stage: Impacting Urban America through Music Education

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Florida Chapter

Beyond the Stage: Impacting Urban America through Music Education

Written by Alex Harris

Growing up in the rural south, Manchester, Georgia, southeast of Atlanta, my 7 siblings and I discovered our path to success through the arts. When asked how did I get my start or when was it that I recognized my abilities to do what I do as a music entertainer, songwriter and producer, I quickly reflect my parents’ creation of an environment for self-discovery through allowing my siblings and me to be adventurous and creative in the discovery of our own internal rhythms.

I remember being approximately 6 years old wandering into our neighbor’s backyard seeing buckets and hearing rhythms that would later lead to my interest to create my first drum set out of the buckets I found in my neighbor’s backyard. My experience at the tender age of 6 years old led to a world of opportunity for my own discoveries, as well as opened doors for other youth and teens through my foundation, Arts Conservatory For Teens (ACT). (www.Arts ConservatoryForTeens.org).

As an artist who has developed a social conscience for ‘at-risk’ and ‘high-risk’ youth and teens, my interest has been to create opportunity through building bridges that help to propel youths and teens in underserved neighborhoods and communities throughout America and abroad to their fullest potential.

According to Kolberg’s (2013) study, nearly a third of America's children are not realizing their full potential (Weiss, Little, Bouffard, Deschenes, & Malone, 2009). They are not developing the academic and occupational skills necessary to compete and succeed in a global economy and society. A disproportionate number of these children come from low-income and/or ethnic minority families who often do not have access to the educational, medical, social, and other non-school supports as their wealthier peers (Darling-Hammond, 2007).

One critical way of addressing this inequality is through out-of-school programs (OSPs), which have received increased public funding over the past two decades. According to the Afterschool Alliance’s (2009a) study, nearly 8.5 million children participate in ASPs nationwide. Unfortunately, another 18.5 million children, the majority being in low-income, ethnic minority families, are denied the opportunity to attend ASPs due to lack of access or availability.

As an artist, my team and I have acknowledged the national crises of denial of access or availability, which has led to an ongoing trend of school dropout, increase in crime, violence, and use of opiates. However, my team and I have not only acknowledged the problem, but with my artistry have also been able to do something about it. The solution to the problem in ‘Urban America’ is addressing the actual problem and not treating the symptoms. We have done this by providing quality relevant ‘21st Century forward’ programming with measurable outcomes. 

Since 2009, my team and I have impacted more than 1,500 teenagers throughout greater Pinellas County in Central Florida.  We have attained a 100% high school graduation rate and 90% higher educational enrollment rate among our artists mentees.

Beyond the stage, I feel it is my social responsibility as an artist to ensure that I do my part in contributing to the fabric of valuing the humanness of humanity by being an active participant in redirecting the mindset of our teenagers, especially population of our urban communities throughout our country, to discover the better self through music and arts education.  In a recent song I wrote, produced and performing on my new single that is set to release in August 2017, #wordless,  I amplify the critical importance of valuing the humanness of humanity. The underlying message of the single suggests that if we are going to talk about making our communities throughout the nation a safer and better place for all, we must value the humanness of humanity and not one particular group or class. We all need each other; therefore, we must make it part of our daily engagement to practice that thought in action.

In conclusion, I encourage everyone to challenge yourself to perform beyond whatever stage you stand to be the voice that you want to hear. Challenge yourself to become the bridge you would like to see in our communities that lifts and celebrates that best of humanity.   This is my commitment and challenge to you. Peace, Love and Soul!

ALEX HARRIS is a Soul/R&B vocalist, actor, and speaker. ALEX’s passion for the arts extends beyond the stage into his foundation, Arts Conservatory For Teens, in St. Petersburg, Florida. While ALEX is no stranger to the entertainment scene, his new single, WORDLESS, is starting to gain great momentum from some of music industry's most influential personalities. ALEX’s use of his musical compositions and performances is inspiring to the human spirit. Further, ALEX started his entertainment career at the tender age of 7 years old, traveling throughout the southeast region with his siblings. As ALEX’s artistry developed from 7yrs old until now, his audience continues to expand with him around the world as well. 

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