Lewis Prizes Make a Difference Across the Country

Marty Steiner • FeaturesMarch 2021 • March 6, 2021

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Beyond the Bars co-founders Matt Kerr (left) and Chris Thornton receive the news that they are one of four Lewis $500,000 Accelerator Prizes.

If a single word could describe the four groups winning this year’s Lewis Accelerator Prize and the other Lewis prize winners, that word would be diversity! Diversity not only in the communities and specific populations served but also in the services provided and the delivery methods employed. Learning about some of these groups may inspire similar services in your community or become a calling to you, your staff or to your students.

The stated mission of the Lewis Prize Group is “to partner with leaders who create positive change by investing in young people through music”. Lewis continues with, “we believe young people with access to high quality music learning, performance and creation will mature into thriving individuals…and contribute positively to their communities”.

This second year of Lewis Accelerator Prizes announced in January saw an increase from three to four winners, each awarded a multi-year grant of $500,000. The target population and methodology of these groups vary widely. These Lewis Prizes recognize the combination of these groups’ leadership as well as what the groups are accomplishing. The Accelerator Awards provide multi-year support to enable these leaders and their organizations to make sustained progress toward ambitious community change.

Youth of the Hyde Square Task Force perform to a sidewalk crowd in Boston’s Latin Quarter. Photo by Mark Saperstein

The Hyde Square Task Force addresses a culturally, racially and economically diverse neighborhood, with a predominantly Latinx (Latin American origin) population in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. This area is frequently referred to as the Latin Quarter. Rather than reflecting the glamour of the legendary nightclub with that name from a previous generation, it is home to low-income and many (60%) immigrants, first generation families. This neighborhood is served by locally owned small businesses. The area’s youth identify themselves as of color with Latin 54%, black 29% and biracial 12%. The group’s music programming focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on Afro-Latin music. This focus is culturally relevant to both the youth served, their families and the community.

Celina Miranda, HSTF Exec. Dir., addresses the annual “Making Change Happen” breakfast. Photo by Christopher Huang christopherhuang.com

The task force came into existence in the 1980’s as a coalition of neighbors and community leaders addressing issues of violence and related problems. It came from a concern for their youth and a belief that communities are stronger when they take care of their youth, Their Youth in Action programs have evolved over the years to include a college success program providing various support for college bound youth, many the first generation to do so. A creative development and community engagement utilizes Afro-Latin arts to strengthen a community social fabric. The group’s vision is to create an environment where all youth reach their potential and that it is reflected in Boston’s culture and leadership.

Hyde Square piano/keyboard student enjoys his lesson

The Hyde Square Task Force received a special Covid-19 Community Fund Grant from the Lewis group in 2020 but this was their first application for the Accelerator prize. “We were absolutely thrilled and honored to be selected for this award alongside the other fantastic recipients. It is a huge deal for us to receive this kind of multi-year support. In June of 2018 we set the goal to grow our programming and these funds will help us to continue to pursue this goal by growing our music programs. First we will increase our music staff to serve more youth. We also will pilot Afro-Latin expert artist residencies on different instruments and in different styles than we have previously offered in house.”

Percussion is critical to Latin music. Hyde Square offers percussion classes.

In applying for this prize Hyde Square Task Force pointed out that in addition to music training with an emphasis on they included other disciplines such as art and dance. Youth not only receive training but engage their community through performances. They also receive additional training in Community Engagement 101 or Art and Social Movements. The youth then take this training a step further by identifying issues important both to them and their community and plan and implement organizing campaigns. This is very much aligned with the Lewis emphasis on creative youth development music programs that produce or support systemic change.

Private instrument lessons are just part of the Beyond the Bars offerings. Photo by Matt Kerr

Beyond the Bars in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania may be responsible for the ultimate jailbreak. One of their major objectives is to disrupt the incarceration pipeline. That pipeline is the flow of youth into incarceration and frequently returning to jail again after their release.

Beyond the Bars all started with a Temple University honor graduate who, like many SBO readers, taught history and civics while also doubling as the music director. This at Belmont Charter High School in Philadelphia. A former high school student of his, the child of an employee at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, made Matthew Kerr aware of the need for music lessons for incarcerated youth. Youth inmates at this facility have been tried or are awaiting trial as adults. The need for music lessons was overwhelming and Kerr began to enlist additional musicians and teachers in the effort. Among these was a local musical artist who already was active in community organizing and youth programs, Christopher Thornton. Identifying additional needs beyond just music lessons, this effort became the student centric program Beyond the Bars, founded by Matt and Chris in 2015.

From the beginning, collaboration and partnership has been the key to the rapid growth of Beyond the Bars. Operating out of a single site of their own, they currently have over twenty additional music spaces within other social service group’s facilities. These include homeless shelters, foster care centers, centers for victims of violence or sexual assault, and diversion centers. Diversion programs provide an opportunity for first time offenders to avoid court, conviction, criminal records, and incarceration by participating in approved rehabilitation programs. These diversion programs are generally established by local courts, prosecutors and district attorneys.

This was Beyond the Bars second application to the Lewis Group seeking the Accelerator Prize.

The Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit’s Mosaic Singers form part of the music offerings of this Lewis Accelerator Prize winning group. Led by DeLashea Strawder this group utilizes professional level theatre and musical performances to help local youth develop their personal skills of disciplined work habits to solve problems in cooperation with others. The Mosaic Singers functions primarily during the school year with summer employment opportunities for its active participants. This Lewis Prize will enable the group to expand its mentorship by professional artists as well as to provide local transportation for many of its students.

Saint Louis’ Story Stitchers Artists Collective and its exec dir, Susan Colangelo, is another group that includes a music program as a portion of their broad community service. This group focuses on the prevention of gun violence involving African American and BIPOC (black and indigenous people of color) and brings together professional artists and musicians with youth ages 16 to 24. Started in 2013 this group now offers podcasts to youth in the 16 to 24 age range. Stitcher’s youth create and share their stories and experiences involving gun violence through music, photography, videography and the spoken word with adult mentorship.

In addition to the four Accelerator Prizes, Lewis awarded three Infusion Awards of $50,000 one time to Dantes Rameaux and AMP, the Atlanta Music Project (SBO July, 2019); Dave W. Christopher, Sr. and AMPED, the Academy of Music Production Education and Development in Louisville, Kentucky; and San Francisco/Oakland, California based Terri Winston and WAM, Women’s Audio Mission.These Infusion awards are designed and intended to support leaders and programs creating new musical platforms and pathways in their communities. This was the first Lewis Award of any sort for each of these three groups.

Operating out of two West Louisville, Kentucky locations, the Academy of Music Production Education and Development (AMPED) works with over 1,700 youth 8 to 18 and their families. This group offers the students free instrumental lessons, classes in music production, music history, vocal performance and videography. A unique blend of the critical reading and analysis of novels that aid in understanding the creation process of music is also offered. The families of these youth are supported with technology training and job placement assistance in order to establish more stable home environments.

Terri Winston and the Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) train over 7,000 women, girls and gender expansive individuals each year in music recording at the mission’s San Francisco professional recording studio. This studio is believed to be the only one in the world built and operated entirely by women. In early April last year Billboard featured this group for its four online-only pilot education sessions that drew 300 participants from all across the country. Among these offerings was “Home Studio 101”. That was just at the beginning of the pandemic caused move to online offerings. This was part of WAM’s direction to online education in order to sharply increase its student capacity without additional facilities.

A third level of Lewis award, the Catalyst was awarded to Michael Reyes and Elizabeth Stone and Detroit’s WACC, We Are Culture Creators. This one-time $25,000 award follows a WACC’s 2020 $50,000 Lewis Infusion award. The Catalyst Award is described as, “single year support for leaders and their groups that show impressive impact and reach”. This group features youth in video production including development, direction and recording of young artists in the Detroit area focusing on Native American, Latinx, and African American.

All the Lewis Prize’s purpose is to encourage, support groups like these to form and make a difference in their communities with music. “We hope to inspire other partners to work together to ensure every young person has the opportunity to access transformative music learning, performance and creation”. Is there such a group in your community? Could there be? Should there be?


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