Organizations all over the country have been putting in place initiatives and programs to support youth development in disadvantages areas, and these innovative services have taken a number of forms. However, some of the most successful programs to have been put in place have been those which have been based on music.
Organizations running music oriented youth development programs believe that music acts as a magnet which draws young people to a safer environment in which they can grow and learn. By attracting at-risk youths away from drug and gang cultures found on the street in targeted low income areas, music programs appeal to adolescents on a level that they can engage with.
Why Is Music A Good Choice?
Music plays a profound role in youth development according to studies which have been recently carried out. However, for anyone who has experience in working with disadvantaged young people, this is a truth which has been known for some time. Ever since the 1950s and 60s when turntables became popular and teens would listen to vinyl records, music has been known to touch the heart, senses and mind in a unique way.
For generations, music has been able to uplift, engage and engender joy in all kinds of people, uniting them despite their diverse backgrounds. Music has the power to change lives, and students in music-related youth development programs are challenges to sing, write songs and learn instruments as well as to become a part of a highly creative team. Within this environment, they can learn how best to motivate each other, and, in so doing, they can improve their self-esteem and confidence.
Addressing The Poverty Gap
Unfortunately, with every year that goes by there is an ever-widening gap between the richest and poorest in society. Even more worryingly, the U.S. government is continually moving its financial priorities ever-further away from investment in society’s least fortunate groups.
More than 15% of America’s population is currently living below the poverty level (classified as $24,000 annually for an average family of 4 people). There are currently 33 million adults in the USA earning under $10 per hour and around 70% of the poorest people in society are single parent households, usually with the mother or grandmother leading the household. Most of those people are living in urban areas, and with urban schools now being severely squeezed due to tight budgeting, arts and music programs are systematically being eliminated from public education institutions as children are taught to the test in order to pass Federal and State reading and math exams.
For many of the young people living in these circumstances, violence, drugs and gangs are rife and a major part of their life. There are also very limited opportunities presented to these adolescents. They have very few places where they can safely play and live. They lack good quality schools and this means they can’t build up the vital skills they need to break the poverty cycle and gain a well-paid job. They begin to lose motivation to succeed and try hard, and so the cycle continues for a new generation.
While all of this sounds very depressing, music youth development initiatives are now stepping into the breach and are helping to re-engage this lost generation by appealing to something that all young people seem to love and relate to.
Music, The Choice Of The Young Generation
Unlike subjects such as math and English, music is a subject which kids actually love to study. Not only is it something that young people enjoy, it’s also a subject that happens to help in improving math and reading skills whilst also stimulating creativity, teaching history and encouraging teamwork and self-confidence. This subject also just happens to be something which is being taken away from young people in the education system and so youth development programs are stepping into the gap and are addressing this educational loss.
By offering at-risk teens a safe environment in which they can listen to, create and enjoy music, they can help young people to develop new skills, forge new opportunities and discover a sense of motivation that can enable them to break the poverty cycle in which their families may have been trapped for generations. Working in close conjunction with existing community organizations like the YMCA and boys and girls clubs, these initiatives offer access to the music education that so many youngsters have requested. This encourages and attracts the same at-risk youths to attend these community organizations, just at the very time during their lives when they were thinking of abandoning such institutions due to negative influences in their environment.
By taking young people off the streets where they could be put in harm’s way, these programs help to protect young people from many of the dangers they encounter in their urban homes so that they can stay happy and healthy throughout their teenage years.