Thursday, August 7, 2014

Harris’ Heroes: Guitars not Guns replaces violence with music

Leon Harris/WJLA

Can strumming a guitar help keep a teen off the streets? That’s the philosophy behind a D.C. nonprofit organization called Guitars not Guns.

Gregg Hammond founded the Washington, D.C. chapter of Guitars not Guns to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble—something he failed at as a teen.

“I got into the street and I got into a lot of trouble. I ended up hanging out with the wrong kids, and ended up in front of a judge who said, ‘I’m putting you in prison,’” he said.

Hammond avoided prison time and a friend soon introduced him to playing guitar.

“To feel that sound coming from the guitar and realized that I was actually able to do that, and something changed pretty quick in my mind,” Hammond said.

Decades later, Hammond was attacked by two groups of D.C. teens and held up at gunpoint by another group. It was then the guitar’s true purpose in his life became clear.

“That was when I said, ‘I have got to do something,’” Hammond said.

For seven years now, Hammond has led a team of volunteers who teach guitar to hundreds of local children.

“We provide guitars and guitar lessons to foster kids and at-risk kids, and really any deserving kid that wants to take part in our program,” he said.

Students borrow guitars initially, but after passing a basic music test, the instruments are theirs to keep.

“You had to be able to play all the chords and know all of the parts of the guitar,” said 15-year-old participant James Poindexter.

“I can play multiple different songs now, and actually get through an entire song,” said 19-year-old Sharve Easterwood, another participant.

As the students’ abilities improve and their self-esteem builds up, Hammond says they make better decisions in life, too.

“I think that that inspires them and steers them away from getting into trouble,” he said.

Hammond says Guitars not Guns is in desperate need of volunteers as it expands to more areas of the city; a new branch of the program will soon start in Anacostia.

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