Preventing Gang Involvement Through Music

Music programs for youth were unheard of a decade ago, until the lives of at-risk children began to improve significantly. As explained by Richard Bains, “My standpoint came out of the fact that there is a lack of music programs in our communities for young people” (Bains and Mesa-Bains 181). America is in dire need of exposure to the arts. An after-school music setting is just as beneficial as math or science class. “A survey of nearly 6,000 eighth graders conducted in 11 cities known to be gang-problem localities found that 11 percent were currently gang members (17 percent said they had belonged to a gang at some point in their young lives)” (National Gang Center). This may be a large percentage of the youth, but think of it as the number of children that may be given the opportunity to join other students who share a passion for music.

Music brings people together for a common purpose, and music can change one’s morals and values. A youth’s personality begins to change as they progress through the program and learn how to handle adversity in different ways, empowering them with knowledge. When a child picks up an instrument, they acquire a new state of mind, filled with endless possibilities. With their newly acquired intelligence, their thought process becomes more developed and conscientious. At-risk youth join the gang community because gangs can provide a sense of power that cannot be achieved individually. Musical gatherings in a local community have positive effects on the youth, eliminating the need for associating with gangs. Positive affects such as learning to interact more efficiently with others, discipline, and new challenges can be seen outside the classroom. Music changes the perception on life and how they act.

A common misconception is that rap music generally leads to gang involvement and violence. Since at-risk youth have the ability to relate to music, why not use music to prevent them from joining gangs? “Although gospel rap’s use remains a topic of debate, gospel rap music and dance are considered effective tools for evangelism among the young and provide alternatives to gang involvement” (Allwood 24). Today, gospel rap’s effect on the youth is simple; they are attracted towards this type of music. Gospel rap answers their questions in a way that the children can understand. “Holy hip hop is a tool to help our youth understand the language of Jesus Christ, who used parables to break down the gospels for people to understand” (Barnes 102). Whether or not a listener agrees with Christianity, it should be made clear that messages within gospel rap have pure intentions. Gospel rap, along with after-school music programs, provides a way for America’s youth to mature in a positive manner.

"If I wasn't involved in music I wouldn't be in the high school I am in now. I … would seriously be in the streets and like gang banging or, you know, getting involved in stuff I shouldn't be getting involved in. And music is an amazing thing, because when I'm frustrated, or angry,… I play it and it really helps me" (Martin). This testimony, from an inner-city child in L.A., has proven that music is a way of life for her. Music saved this child’s life, and could save more if more after school music programs were available. “Los Angeles’ high school dropout rate is 57.1%. However, kids who stay in the Harmony Project all the way through school, graduate at a rate of 100%” (Brawley). This is empirical evidence that musical programs are improving the way of life for at-risk youth.

The Harmony Project and New Orleans’ after-school program, “Roots of Music” have developed a unique system. Both programs require student progress reports in order for the student to remain eligible to play their instrument. The at-risk youth have an incentive to stay focused on academics. In doing so, they are ensured success in the classroom, as well as success within society as the music programs help in the process of liberating the youth from the tendency to join a gang. As explained by Frisch, “students begin to use music and the group context differently, expressing themselves and interacting in new ways that may be more appropriate” (qtd. in Camilleri.V 18). The artistic expression recognized is the music the youth use as a way of life. Stress is relieved and positive bonds are built. These programs are free to students, making it easier for them to become a part of a program that will positively impact their lives forever.

Justin Jennings

Links to Other Subsections
A Nation Sings Out
Building a Bolder Boulder
Testimonies and Stories

Works Cited:

Brawley, Lucia. "How Music Is Saving Lives in LA | The LA Progressive.” LA Progressive Social Justice Magazine. 04 Dec. 2009. Web. 31 Oct. 2010. <>.

Martin, Margaret. "L.A. Gangs Save Lives.” Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. 22 May 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2010. <>.

Bains, Richard, and Amalia Mesa-Bains. "A Reciprocal University: A Model For Arts, Justice, and Community." Social Justice 29.4 (2002): 182+. HW Wilson. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.

"Frequently Asked Questions About Gangs.” National Gang Center™. Web. 31 Oct. 2010. <>.
Barnes, Sandra L. "The Least of These: Black Church Children’s and Youth Outreach Efforts." Journal of African American Studies 12.2 (2008): 97-119. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

"Music Therapy With Inner City, At-Risk Children: From the Literal to the Symbolic." Creative Arts Therapies Manual: a Guide to the History, Theoretical Approaches, Assessment, and Work with Special Populations of Art, Play, Dance, Music, Drama, and Poetry Therapies. Ed. Stephanie L. Brooke. By Vanessa A. Camilleri. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 2006. 205-12. Print.

Harmony Project Welcomes Oleta Adams. The Harmony Project | Investing in Children and Communities Through Music. 2010. Web. 02 Dec. 2010. <>.