Guitars Over Guns
Bridging the opportunity gap for divested urban youth through transformational access to music, connectivity, and self-empowerment.
Chad is a lucky husband and father of four amazing kids, Co-Founder/CEO of Guitars Over Guns, and a professional musician who has toured the world and been instrumental in the evolution of the “Latin Funk” sound of Miami. Chad received a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Miami in 2012, focusing his dissertation on the efficacy of Guitars Over Guns’ research-based methods. In 2015, Chad was honored as a CNN Hero for his work, and has since been featured by the Steve Harvey Show and People Magazine. Most recently, Chad received the Ruth Shack Leadership Award, an honor held in Miami’s highest regard, and completed Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management program on scholarship. Chad is currently serving his third term on the board of the Recording Academy, co-chairing the Education Committee, and remains an active musician with Suénalo and the Latin Grammy-nominated Spam Allstars.
Guitars Over Guns
Bridging the opportunity gap for divested urban youth through transformational access to music, connectivity, and self-empowerment.
Every child deserves equitable access to a fair shot in life, the opportunity to self-actualize, and contribute meaningfully to society, especially in a top world economy. Yet, due to social, governmental, and political systems designed to perpetuate inequity, urban minority youth living in poverty in the United States are our greatest casualties. Guitars Over Guns tackles these interrelated challenges by leveraging the transformational power of music to create opportunity and connectedness for these youth, whom we believe have the capacity to become our greatest leaders. We elevate these futures, opening pathways for the actualization of their artistry, full selves, and the solutions we need to achieve a better world. Through arts-based mentoring programs, we pair youth with caring adults who share these values and invest in their potential, activating change through a network approach to overcoming the barriers that have stymied generations.
Millions of urban youth across the United States face systemic, generational, cyclical poverty resulting from hundreds of years of systemic inequality, racial prejudice, and policies that created, then perpetuated geographical, social and financial inequalities. Nowhere is the gun violence crisis more evident than in our underserved urban communities, where Black men make up just 6% of the US population, but account for 51% of all homicide victims.
For youth born into environments where resources, hope and positive role models are lacking, where young black men in particular face a homicide rate 20 times higher than the national average and poverty is commonplace, navigating the emotional stress of everyday life in a high-crime area means choosing survival above all: above the opportunity to develop academically, socially, emotionally, creatively and civically, let alone to develop as a leader, to be celebrated and nurtured, and to share their unique gifts. Lives cut tragically short mean the world will never get to experience their fully actualized gifts. At the same time, this potential may be just what is needed to solve global challenges and become a more sustainable, equitable society.
Guitars Over Guns (GOGO) believes that urban teens who come from disadvantaged backgrounds – those who can thrive in the face of adversity – have the capacity to be our greatest leaders and help us reverse and change the systems that have so long held back our full societal potential. Our successful model to unlock that capacity, honed over 13 years, pairs these youth with a caring adult mentor, the transformational power of music, and trauma-informed mental health support. Separately, these interventions have proven to increase student academic, social-emotional development and future employability and economic potential. We uniquely combine these to maximize their collective effectiveness.
Through weekly after-school music and art instruction, mentoring, trauma-informed care, and performance opportunities after school in urban Miami and Chicago, GOGO is a platform for youth to learn, grow and unleash their leadership potential. This model specifically addresses interconnected challenges faced by youth in disadvantaged communities including a lack of: trusting, consistent relationships with caring adults; quality, low-cost after-school programming options from 3:00 to 6:00pm – typically unsupervised hours cited by the University of Chicago as those when youth are most involved with violent crime; and enriching, safe activities that foster self-esteem and creative self-expression.
This year, 925 students ages 11-18 from 17 schools in urban Miami and on Chicago’s South and West Side are participating in culturally-relevant arts-based mentoring twice a week from 4-6pm in schools and at our Chicago community-based Haven Studio, a recording and media studio where 95 additional youth ages 14-21 develop their creativity, receive mentorship, and learn professional skills to apply toward employment in the local music industry and ultimately, a viable economic future beyond unsafe options available in the neighborhood.
Youth self-select to participate in programming and over 84% emerge with an increased sense of personal worth and value, social-emotional capacities, goal achievement, attitude toward the community, and locus of control – helping them to become empowered to address issues impacting their community. Alumni can serve as mentors, play in the alumni band, or in the case of Junior Pierre, serve on GOGO’s national board of directors. Youth don’t participate in programs that don’t have value to them personally; our alumni program’s rapid growth indicates its value to graduates. Our high retention rate and highly-involved alumni are evidence of the model’s efficacy, in contrast to many of our peers who struggle to recruit and retain.
Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
A system leaves behind children and teens when firearms are the leading cause of their death in this country. Gun violence is a very real part of life for our students, many of whom have “one foot in and one foot out” of a very dangerous reality, with few places to turn. Tragically, we’ve lost 3 students in the last two years. These traumas are felt deeply, but they’ve only strengthened our resolve, rallying mentors and youth to uplift and empower each other; peers who might not otherwise transcend the everyday uncertainty of where they were born and raised.
My musical career unlocked the irresistible magic of Miami. It brought me into the community, organizing musicians for ad hoc programs. An experience in a juvenile detention center uncovered major injustices in our community and showed me a unique opportunity for musicians to connect with and empower youth where other interventions failed. I formalized those efforts into what would become my life’s work, Guitars Over Guns.
Working alongside our youth and other professional artists and educators, Guitars Over Guns was born out of a desire to provide the same artistic opportunities for every child that I and my fellow professional musician and artist mentors had at some point in our lives; opportunities we saw fading from schools among a strong national trend of prevalent cuts in arts instruction and diminishing exposure to creative learning and development opportunities, particularly in the highest-need, lowest-income schools.
As a result of this work, I’ve become a champion of youth in our most vulnerable communities and their potential, with a fierce commitment to chipping away at the complex, interconnected challenges that keep us from activating the progress we need to create a just, equitable world.
Being a father of four underlines even deeper for me that our youth are our future, and every child is worthy of being loved and nurtured and given access to the tools, guidance, and relationships that unlock their full potential. Every child deserves to have a fair chance to succeed and thrive.
Music is a powerful, transformational, and universal language. Every group of people on earth creates and experiences life through music. As a musician, I’ve been fortunate to be in a wide variety of rooms with a vast variety of people as a learner, appreciator, connector, consumer, performer, and champion of a range of musical cultural expressions. Yet, my experience playing at the juvenile facility was unlike those other rooms. It starkly awakened me to the realities and the disparities that exist in the world, specifically those from my own privileged experiences. I could not un-see these troubling differences. I also witnessed music powerfully restoring their voices, their freedom, and their humanity. That moment cemented my belief that music could be the path for empowerment, healing, transformation, and abundance for those our systems have left behind.
We work in communities walking on the shards of shattered trust. Trust takes time to build and it must be built from within the community. As the founder of Guitars Over Guns, I am rooted in a sense of family-driven by values of being fair, just, and inclusive. As a multi-genre musician, music is a gateway to dignity and a vehicle to connect with the world, on and off the stage. Music helped me build a network of incredible, diverse peers, artists, mentors, learning, and opportunities that I am now leveraging on behalf of our youth to help them reach their full potential.
When we began in 2008, we had 5 musicians, a vision, and a passionate story we were able to convert into community support. Our approach, albeit unconventional and creative, worked and grew. As a Miami Fellow and Ruth Shack Award winner with The Miami Foundation, along with training at Harvard Business School and others, paired with support from the social impact space, I converted passion into business acumen to form partnerships and grow the organization’s capacity. I have a long way to go, but now serve as an air traffic controller of opportunities, people, and information to keep the mission going. Offering youth the opportunity for direction, connection, and purpose comes from being a musician, artist, creator, and someone who uses the limitless potential in music to approach innovating within limitations. Inside, I’m still the same humbled musician that walked into that juvenile detention center.
After 13 years working with divested urban youth, COVID-19 has been one of the biggest challenges and threats. When the pandemic hit, we decided we could not allow it to prevent us from providing youth with the consistent personal attention they rely on us for, and that it could provide more hope than ever. We also committed to honoring every dollar of income for our musician mentors through the end of the school year, as we knew their incomes rely primarily and heavily on live events, gigs, and teaching that dried up overnight, as well as full-time employees and hourly workers, tapping cash reserves if necessary.
After schools closed, we pivoted to virtual to allow our school-based programs to continue digitally. Our programs and trauma-informed mentor teams adapted our lesson plans so they could succeed in a virtual space and launched touchpoints with youth who were in unsafe quarantine situations (food scarcity, physical/mental/emotional abuse. We empowered mentors who had experience teaching lessons via live webcam to share best practices. Within two weeks, we already had 17 unique programs up and running (with 80%+ attendance), a mental health program, and community relief resource banks and seminars.
After experiencing the death of a student to gun violence, a student being placed in improper care of a foster parent after her biological father was arrested for sexually abusing her, and calling the authorities to Baker Act a student who was threatening to take her own life, the mental well-being for our students and mentors, both of whom needed to process and cope with the weight and burden of trauma, became top priority.
Despite being an arts-based youth development program, it was clear that we had an opportunity to address this unmet need and after years of outsourcing advice and consulting from friends in the field of psychotherapy, I developed a mental health program to deploy Masters of Social Work students under a Licensed Social Care Worker coordinator, to serve our program sites. This program brings the solution to the need, avoiding the obstacles that typically prevent students of color from seeking care: lack of support due to the sociocultural stigma of mental health, lack of school resources, and lack of a pre-existing relationship with an adult they know and trust. M-Power provides direct care to students and mentors in need and trauma-informed training to our team.
Studies show that mentoring significantly reverses early warning indicators that a student may be falling off track, e.g., high levels of absenteeism and recurring behavior problems. Students who meet with mentors regularly are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, 37% less likely to skip a class (Kennelly & Monrad, 2007), 55% more likely to be enrolled in college (Bruce & Bridgeland, 2014) and 81% more likely to participate regularly in extracurriculars than those who do not (Herrera, DuBois, & Grossman, 2013). GOGO’s innovative mentorship-based approach is intended to help reverse these troubling statistics, providing a platform for urban youths’ creative development, self-expression, personal accountability, leadership cultivation, and trauma-informed mental health support.
GOGO’s model is built on four pillars: mentoring, artistic instruction, performance, and trauma-informed care. Separately, these interventions have proven to increase student academic and social-emotional development and future employability and economic potential. However, GOGO uniquely combines these to maximize their collective effectiveness. We collect data measuring GPA, attendance, and behavior, aiming for 80% improvement in all areas, targets that are the byproducts of a larger prosocial, positive developmental shift in thinking and attitudes of our students. Further, while most music programs stress classical theory and sequential skills training, GOGO meets youth where they are, connecting through the culturally relevant music they love.
Through arts-based mentoring, GOGO is addressing three primary, interrelated challenges facing low-income youth in urban Miami and Chicago: lack of positive adult relationships, lack of access to high-quality arts programming and the cycle of disenfranchisement, apathy and violence. Through after-school programs and embedded trauma-informed mental health support services (the M-Power program) alongside after-school instruction and mentorship in schools and community locations including the Haven Studio on Chicago’s South Side, GOGO is not only providing quality arts programs and the opportunity to develop creative skills to populations that would not otherwise have access to it, but also personalized care by adults who are there solely to support their advancement and development as creative, self-directed, responsible and engaged individuals who are not only on the path to completing their high school education, but also have the capacity to be economically viable and socially, civically engaged leaders far beyond their secondary school education.
The model prioritizes social-emotional learning, performance and academic support and accountability during typically high-crime, unsupervised hours in a mentorship environment. Mentors who essentially serve as first responders to their mentees in a social-emotional and academic context, and may be otherwise unequipped to manage and respond to the mental and emotional stress specific to fulfilling such a role, receive training and support. Students emerge with an increased sense of personal worth and value, SEL capacities, goal achievement, increased attitude toward the community, and an increased locus of control (also for our practitioners) – helping them to become empowered toward addressing social injustice impacting their community.
As a result of M-Power, GOGO creates a foundation of relationships from which emerge engaged, collaborative and creative leaders who feel positively toward school, make better choices at home and at school, and have something productive, valuable and engaging to do during traditionally high-crime hours. This cohort grows into a critical mass of empowered youth who begin to choose different pathways for their lives beyond the neighborhood, relationships, and connections among schools, artists, cities, and families that sustain the model and amplify access to it, and revitalize challenged neighborhoods in urban cores across the US.
We are currently serving about 1,000 youth in urban Miami and Chicago. Through our expansion plans detailed lower down in this application, within five years, we plan to expand to serve 5,000 youth in the United States through nearly 500 musicians (both of whom are directly and meaningfully served). This is our benchmark goal towards our ten-year plan to serve 10,000 youth (inclusive of an international musical exchange summer program).
During 2018-2020, Guitars Over Guns (GOGO) significantly increased its programmatic footprint in Miami and Chicago, bringing on additional school sites and staff to serve increasing demand for its work and approach. We also invested in bolstering systems management for our local program model, building infrastructure to create regional interdependence and systematize processes for data collection, reporting, and accountability.
In order to position ourselves for success in the coming 1-5 years, our priorities are to build on recent momentum while working towards building out the next city for national (within 3 years) and international expansion (within 10 years). We hope to expand our trauma-informed care program beyond Miami, where there is potential to turn the corner into an earned revenue stream. We will also focus on creating sustainability at our increased budget size and moving forward toward our goal serving 10,000 students annually by 2030.
To support this ambitious expansion over the next 10 years, we will advance our board model, transitioning to one that incorporates a National Board of Directors with Regional Advisory Boards, and we will continue centralizing services as we have started to do in Miami, with accounting, operations, and marketing. As we grow in tandem and alongside our regional-to-national transitioning board model, we are creating a development plan to accomplish this expansion. By adding one city in 2022-23, we will vet the model for expansion, then reset for an aggressive course to bring on the next eight cities between 2023-2030.
The current barriers to our accomplishing our goals in the next 1-5 years include: unknown impact of COVID-19 on our ability to raise funds, source and pay mentors, and to provide programs using our traditional and proven model or the effect of sustaining a virtual model over time; creating a network and pipeline of national funding sources; sourcing partnerships and building a viable national funding pipeline to create financial runway in new markets (private, corporate, and institutional funding) prior to expansion; turning the corner on revenue-generating streams through purposeful contracted programming and services (monetizing our services and brand); sourcing guest appearances/performances, contracts with schools; and finding platforms to train others in trauma-informed care within urban arts and education settings and in arts-based mentor training.
We are currently engaged in the Scaling Up process with a coach, Gil Bonwit, who wrote the Scaling Up Social model with Verne Harnish (of Gazelles), to help us overcome the current barriers to our aspirations and realization of our goals. These include: building a national board structure; investing in relationship development with national funders; creating a two-year plan to actualize regional autonomy through infrastructure/capacity development; investing into systems, specifically building out a Salesforce platform with integrated Einstein (Artificial Intelligence) to manage and assess data in real-time with a dashboard for regional and site KPIs; leveraging national partnerships with Teach For America, Communities in Schools, McDermott Will & Emery, and several other targets; piloting a collective impact model in Miami Gardens that may be the key to providing access and opportunity to a continuum of quality music education for every student in that public school feeder pattern; and developing a completely virtual program that also includes video and music production.
We partner with Miami-Dade and Chicago Public Schools for after-school space use, to track student achievement, to advocate for students, and to support district-wide initiatives. Communities in Schools and Teach for America help identify and recruit students, provide ongoing mentor support, and provide a multitude of wrap-around services. We work with local Universities (FIU and Barry) to source Masters of Social Work students for our M-Power mental health program. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality is a key partner in the design of our arts-based youth development curriculum in alignment with evidence-based and best practices.
We are a Partner with Social Venture Partners Miami (SVP Miami), part of a global network of 3,500+ venture philanthropists in 40+ cities, who have collectively contributed $63 million+ to 840+ social ventures since 1997. SVP provides executives, entrepreneurs, and community leaders who contribute funds, expertise and connections to make strategic investments in SVP Partners. SVP’s venture capital model, with social returns as the goal, goes beyond traditional philanthropy, offering an innovative and impactful way to give back and scale social solutions.
Community partners provide venues and support for programs and performances throughout the year: Ball & Chain, Noisematch Recording Studio, Perez Art Museum Miami, Hard Rock. Chicago: United Center, Reggies Rock Club, Ronald McDonald House.
Our business model is a hybrid, still reliant on a traditional fundraising nonprofit service delivery model where our key beneficiaries, the youth to whom we deliver free-of-cost services, are not the source of revenue. This has been successful, but we are building out a marketable product and growing our fee-for-service model to include a more profitable social enterprise arm.
The service model provides arts-based mentoring programs after-school in classrooms in Miami and Chicago, and at a community-based media and recording studio on the South Side of Chicago. These programs provide youth with an opportunity to learn musical and life skills, creatively self-express, receive trauma-informed mental health support, and develop as people and leaders alongside a committed, caring adult mentor. The combination of these services are uniquely effective and are otherwise not available to our students.
We partner with musicians from the local music industry who receive rigorous training via a multi-day institute and ongoing professional development to deliver mentorship, academic support, and musical instruction. Youth participants and alumni also receive masterclasses with leading local and touring artists, training, and performance opportunities in the community. Our model earns and raises funds through our affiliating agreement M-DCPS and Miami Dade County and City of Chicago government grants, earned revenue from mission-aligned partners, community venues, and corporate sponsors, to provide our programs to address their needs and populations, who are looking for evidence-based, culturally relevant programs for urban youth or who seek event entertainment, community engagement, merchandise, and corporate social responsibility fulfillments.
We are financially sustainable in Miami; our next focus is on driving and freeing up unrestricted dollars for Chicago programs, hiring a regional development staffer to secure grants and restricted funding for Chicago programming, build out a major donor program and private house concert series for major donors. We will continue to build out our successful fee for service model as a music and social-emotional learning programming provider for mission-aligned partners who have secured institutional funding for our work (such as The Children’s Trust, 21st Century Grant, etc.). We are also fundraising to secure 2-3 years of runway before entering a new market.
As we work toward the National board model with Regional Advisory Boards, one of the criteria for new markets is to find a “rainmaker” Board Chair who can open doors and make introductions to major funding sources/relationships. This will be particularly helpful as we try to align our expansion into new markets with corporate headquarters for Fortune 1000 companies. In the future, we hope our business model will include external models. This is dependent on our success monetizing our infrastructure, leveraging our Artificial Intelligence data management and accounting system (as a product or as a backend for philanthropic partners who want to leverage a vetted system), but we are not there yet.
We generate revenue through earned and contributed sources. In the last 12 months, we raised and earned:
$247,155 Special event revenue
$1,298,970 Grants (government, foundation)
$61,860 Board giving
$118,834 Corporate grants
$390,255 Individual donations, Membership program
$256,322 Contracted programs, performances, and services,
Our lead funders were The Children’s Trust at $302,634, ELMA Philanthropies and Florida Blue Foundation at $100,000 each, and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs at $64,750.
We seek to raise funds annually for Guitars Over Guns so we may achieve our vision and goal of national and international expansion. By 2023, we aim to raise $7,000,000 to grow and sustain programs in 3 cities, maintain a cash reserve of $2,000,000. We will approach these goals by pursuing private/individual donations, corporate, government, and foundation sponsorships and grants, board dues, special event revenue, contracted professional service fees, merchandise sales, and membership dues. These sources will provide revenue to cover expenses of current programs and our growth into new markets, net our expenses to budgets as we grow, and allow us to use surplus revenue as unrestricted growth capital. Our cash reserves will be placed in a low-risk, moderate-yield investment instrument that is liquid enough to protect us or be liquidated if needed should another crisis arise like COVID-19 in the future.
Our 2020-2021 organizational budget is $2,473,622, which breaks down in the following sub-groups: 80.3% direct programmatic expenses; 8.8% administrative expenses; 10.9% fundraising expenses. These expenses split between Miami ($1,534,651) and Chicago ($938,971). In terms of growth, this budget represents a 33% increase from the prior year, which is directly related to our ability to diversify our funding streams through multi-year grants and a growing portfolio of fee-for-service contracts.
I believe in this work because I have lived it and seen the life-changing impact that it’s had on all parties involved. I have had students tell me, literally, that if it weren’t for the program, they would likely be in jail or dead. I have seen the impact our work has had on the artistic community, and at a time where the cultural fabric of our cities has never been more at risk. We have proven the concept and the universal nature of the need for it. We just need a chance to share it with more youth in need.
The Elevate Prize can help us overcome the barriers related to COVID-19 recovery, the impact of which we do not yet know; help us build out our partnerships and a funding pipeline for the GOGO new-market runway as we expand into new cities (private, corporate, and institutional funding); help us strengthen a network of relationships with national funders and partners and turn the corner on a social enterprise model; helping us to leverage our ability to scale our innovative expertise into revenue-generating, mutually beneficial opportunities, such as training others in trauma-informed care and training peer organizations in arts-based mentorship best practices. On the media and marketing side, we have assets but not yet the personnel or overarching strategy to best use them and this would place us visibly on a national stage.
We are seeking partners to build comprehensive opportunity and access to music education for youth in under-resourced schools and partners for national scalability. Teach for America is a great example, where we provide value in programming, community immersion, and the ability for teachers to connect deeper in the communities they serve. These mutually-beneficial partnerships allow us to scale our programs to new cities and increase the likelihood of TFA Fellows’ tenure staying committed in the classroom. This builds a pipeline of activated educators who are familiar with and committed to working alongside GOGO to carry out programming with our mentors, mutually navigate the education system, create a link between in and out of school programming, and have the potential to scale from city to city in the public school system with a shared focus on the same target demographic.
We would potentially like to work with an organization like City Year that trains people to achieve similar goals to ours, has scaled nationally, and has many deep and beneficial relationships with the school districts. We see City Year and Teach For America as ideal potential pipelines for talent for Guitars Over Guns. We would also seek out musician-centered organizations such as The Recording Academy or other local musician networks to source a pipeline of musicians to serve as mentors. We would like to partner with national funding networks that have regional focuses on arts and culture and a shared target demographic, as well as with school districts in our target markets. Finally, we would like to partner with Universities, not just for mental health support, but for research, as we would like to measure the impact of our programming in a longitudinal study.