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Inner-city Schools Concert Inspires, Engages Kids

July 6, 2011 - 1 Comment

The bright hot autumn sun burned down into Compton, California – right onto the shoulders of a busy nine year-old boy. The boy was respectful, working on hurrying up his chores for his mother so he could play ball with friends.  The boy eyed the last pile of leaves and thought “last one, then I’m done”. He heaved the rake over the pile and pulled back – and stiffened in shock as the rake revealed two automatic hand guns, still warm, hidden in the leaves.

To this day Fred Martin does not like leaves.  Buried under high piles of leaves are where the Compton gangs he grew up with hid their guns – at the safe house of “the Church family” – Fred’s family. The police never searched there; his father was a minister. Soon enough at ten years age Fred, a music prodigy, found himself playing organ in church on Sunday mornings – he later figured the music carried him away from the leaves.

Thirty years later – and that same Fred, through his Urban Entertainment Institute, has taught thousands of inner-city kids music, song, dance and language. He works in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and works at keeping kids out of gangs – helping them see the self expression and self awareness made possible through the arts.  He helps them discover and uncover their talents – often times saving a life in the process . “It’s incredible to see what these kids can do if we give them a chance” says Martin.

The kids are responding well. Some of Fred’s students have gone on to win awards, record songs, and perform publicly. And most have skirted gang life. Chavonne Morris-Stewart and Aletha Mills are both alumni of the UEI that have gone on to promising careers in the music industry. They have toured the world with Jackson Browne and are featured vocalists on his latest CD. They’ve also performed for President Obama.

Backed by LAUSD and innovative CIO Ron Chandler – Fred is persisting in the face of tough school  budget cutbacks that have hit 12,000+ USA districts this year. He’s also branching out – Fred recently, with the help of Cisco Systems, produced the first ever live multi-point schools talent concert – involving 800 kids from inner-city schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. The kids? They loved it.

Throughout the 70-minute live performance, Mary Mary, Reuben Cannon, Norman Lear, and Dr. Maya Angelou all joined in via Cisco video links to offer praise, encouragement, and inspiration for the children. “You can be successful” said Cannon, “if you find your passion, do your best, and apply yourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.” The kids performed dance routines, music ensembles, sang songs, and did poetry readings.

Public Education
A collaborative poem written by Destiny Campbell, Denisse Cotto, Maryama Sillah, Lydia Villa, and Ms. Watson

Dr. Maya Angelou watches students from DreamYard Prep perform "Public Education".

P is for public.  Public Education.
Where learning begins at the metal detector
detecting what can’t be brought in,
never scanning deep enough to decipher the pain.
If the machine could really see what we bring to school,
it would sound the alarm:

[this is a generation full of dreamers.]

Ron Chandler, CIO of the LAUSD looks on as Reuben Cannon addresses students from his office in Atlanta.

“It was amazing to watch the kids perform” said Ron, “and equally amazing to watch how Cisco’s technology was able to pull it all together.” The video, collaboration, and networking tools powered each site – allowing the students in Los Angeles to see in real-time the reactions and applause from kids in Chicago and New York. And Chicago & New York rotated through their performances, delighting the Los Angeles students watching from the new Robert F. Kennedy High School.

“With Cisco TelePresence – we can reach more kids – and get them involved and engaged in these critical after hours school programs,” said Fred. “They can connect, and they can perform.  All they need is a stage.”

With Cisco, today the stage is getting bigger for inner-city schools.

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  1. Frank, so happy that you saw the possiblity of this event…the poem from the students about the metal detector..what a powerful image!