‘Guitars Over Guns’ Uses Music To Keep At-Risk Kids In School

Guitars Over Guns Organization (“GOGO”) was founded in 2008 by Dr. Chad Bernstein, an accomplished professional trombonist and educator in Miami, and his father, Bob Bernstein, a successful financial professional in Chicago. The inspiration derived from their joint desire to formalize the ad-hoc mentoring that many members of Suénalo, a popular Miami band of which Chad was a member, had been providing in their community for years. After several years studying philanthropic start-ups, the first program was born with an intense desire to provide kids from the most under-served neighborhoods opportunities to play music, especially music they love . . . opportunities that Chad and all the mentors had in their lives but saw fading from school curriculums and budgets.

Through an initial partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS) of Miami, GOGO began mentoring students of North Miami middle school. The program grew over the next three years, increasing in popularity among the students and gaining traction in the school and community through performances. GOGO opened a second program in 2012-13 at Miami Edison Middle School.

Guitars Over Guns' Chad Bernstein with young musicians at the NBC 6 South Florida studios.
Guitars Over Guns’ Chad Bernstein with young musicians at the NBC 6 South Florida studios.

GOGO’s other major partners include the University of Miami’s Frost MusicReach program, which provides college music students to provide supplemental music education and mentoring for their students. And others are noticing the fine work – In 2014, the GOGO program was among a small handful of featured not-for-profits in the McDermott, Will & Emory 2014 Annual Report on Social Responsibility, a global publication.

Since launching in 2008, GOGO has now mentored over 240 students. Measuring impact has always been their key driver. In the last two years alone we have served 126 students, of whom 92% improved their GPA, 94% improved decision making skills (ACOPE pre and post assessment), 97% improved attendance as measured by school records, and 99% of previously suspended youth did not get suspended after program participation.

More meaningful to these young musicians is the fact that they have written and produced their own music and videos, been accepted into performing arts schools and higher music education opportunities, and performed on the radio, CBS, and NBC. GOGO students have also performed side-by-side with their mentors and at such renowned venues as the Filmore and Jackie Gleason Theaters on Miami Beach, the University of Miami, and major Miami festivals including the Miami International Book Fair, Art Basel, and the Grassroots Festival. GOGO students have had the opportunity to work with prominent artists such as Omar Tavarez (drummer for Pitbull), Sharon Aguilar (guitarist for CeeLo Green), and Rhea (singer for Pharrell). And finally, every GOGO student gets the opportunity to be professionally recorded – eternal proof that they overcame their fears, became accountable to themselves and their peers, and built a bridge to their future.