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DC Youth Program Offers Guitars and Guidance as Alternative to Violence

Greggory Hammond with two aspiring guitar players

Greggory Hammond with two aspiring guitar players

When someone gets mugged at gunpoint, their natural reaction is to become fearful and angry. After seeking punishment for the perpetrators, one usually goes back to normal life feeling impotent with less trust in people around them and in human nature. But Greggory Hammond decided to look at the bigger picture after he was attacked, and the answers he came up with, combined with his talent for music and working with young people, led to a new vocation.

Violence was a fact from my earliest childhood in Washington, DC. I was born in Foggy Bottom at the end of the 1960′s, years when two prominent leaders of social change were both assassinated, John F. Kennedy in 1963, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. The first assassination caused shock and grief, the second shock and outrage. Like many other cities, there were riots in the District. U Street NW & 14th St. NW burned, as did Columbia Heights and H St. NE.

Frightened by the violence, my family moved away. Yet in 2002, I returned to live in the District and began to reconnect with the place that I came from so many years ago.

One day in 2004, as I exited the Greenline Metro stop at the Waterfront, I was confronted by a gang of more than twenty kids. Several threw punches at me. I managed to dodge some, but one punch landed directly under my nose and split my face open.

For the next few days as I healed, I pondered, “Why did this happen?”

Late one night in 2005, as I walked home along 14th St. NW, two young men jumped from a car and attempted to hold me at gunpoint. Facing the barrel of a gun, I mustered every bit of energy to thwart this attempt to rob me. I escaped. I called Metropolitan Police and reported the incident. The officers told me that I was lucky. This sort of thing happens all the time.

IMG_9486I determined it was conditions and circumstances. I thought back to my youth, how I was pushed and pulled by certain influences. My mind and spirit desired to be accepted and understood. I came to the conclusion that the youth who attacked me did so because they lacked a caring, safe place to grow up. They had no good role models.

In the case of the attempted mugging, instead of complaining and accusing MPD of not doing their job properly, I embraced the incident as an opportunity to become proactive. I believed I could create the change I wanted to see in my city.

I had some training in mentoring. I also had the skill of teaching guitar. This became a turning point in my life. I began to visualize a program combining music with mentoring to intervene in the adverse circumstances facing DC youth.

On the internet I discovered the children’s music charity Guitars Not Guns. The program is simple: for students who show up and dedicate themselves to a simple practice, they get the opportunity to pass an exam and earn a guitar. I was overjoyed to find this program to be exactly what I had envisioned in my mind.

I founded the Washington, DC chapter and started classes here in our city–in the very same neighborhoods that had suffered violence and destruction in the decade that I was born.

Over the past five years, Guitars Not Guns has served more than 400 students in the District of Columbia and the surrounding areas. There are Guitars Not Guns classes in Columbia Heights, U St., and Petworth. I met briefly with Mayor Vincent Gray and expressed my desire to open classrooms in Wards 5 , 7 and 8. He connected me with people to help begin the process.

Music is a language of the soul and it speaks to everyone regardless of age, background, or belief system. The results of our volunteer’s combined efforts has been absolutely amazing. Each classroom is abundant with laughter, smiles and creative exploration of music for our youth. The Guitars Not Guns program changes lives, and it lasts a lifetime. The reward is a safer city full of young musicians.

Guitars Not Guns is a national 501(c)(3), an all-volunteer staffed program in many states across the USA, and in Canada and England. We are supported through donations of instruments, volunteer hours, and financial contributions. You can learn more about the program and our work to effectively create the change we want to see at our national website.

The DC Chapter of Guns Not Guitars is currently accepting volunteers for all positions–from guitar teachers, administrative help, bookkeeping all the way up to board members. Interested volunteers must be ready to dedicate themselves!

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2 Responses to DC Youth Program Offers Guitars and Guidance as Alternative to Violence

  1. Hello, I also grew up in DC. NW but moved away, not far in the early 60s I have since raised 6 kids that have grown and are on their own. I play guitar and have never had a teaching job but I have 6 kids and 9 grand kids that all have gained from my efforts. I am at the point in my life where I not only want to give back but I feel I need to. It’s just my time to do what I can to make this a better world. I would like to know what I could do to help. I don’t have much money but I do have time and am willing.
    Please feel free to email me with contact info.
    Thank you. Tom

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