African American Legacy awarded funding to Restoring the Path, a nonprofit organization that attracts young men who are gang-involved or gang-affiliated, “accepting them as they are to bring them to where we want them to be,” says founder and executive director Sally Hazelgrove.  Located in Chicago’s Englewood community, Restoring the Path is best known for its Crushers Club boxing training program, which has given scores of African-American boys and young adults a place to relieve their aggression, be physically active, cultivate good habits and discipline, and stay off the streets where they might perpetrate or fall prey to violence.  Restoring the Path’s Voice Not Violence project was Voice of Englewood.

Laying down tracks to hear boys’ sound wisdom

 

Voice of Englewood teaches young men music-making, writing and job skills

Tall, lean and soft-spoken, Melik Phipps doesn’t appear to be a fighter, but he was; first, as a self-described troubled elementary school student, then as a teen who stuffed his anger into boxing gloves and learned to convert and release that energy.

Melik fought in the ring at Crushers Club, an innovative program that welcomes gang- and juvenile justice-involved boys through its doors and keeps them busy…too busy for dangerous street activity.  With help from older boys and adult coaches, Melik learned how to fight, win and lose fairly, and to leave the anger and emotions on the mat.  But one day Melik jumped into the ring for a match without properly taping and protecting his hands, resulting in broken left and right knuckles.

That was when Sally Hazelgrove, the woman behind Crusher’s Club, suggested that Melik check out the music studio, Voice of Englewood. “Boxing is our main platform to bring in our youth and to deliver our model to redirect them on new paths, but music was a big draw for these young men,” Hazelgrove says.  “With the African American Legacy funding, we were able to build a music studio and get the program going to provide employment for our youth there.”

A Restoring the Path participant built the first studio, which Hazelgrove describes as “scrappy”; he also became its first employee. The AAL grant funded a second youth-built, youth-led studio, which included a genuine recording booth, microphones, a piano, tables and chairs, and a generator that powers outdoor music and performances.  “That generator was a really good investment, because it gives us such freedom to take the music outside when things are so intense in the neighborhood,” Hazelgrove says.  This past summer, Restoring the Path held Friday “peace” barbeques with performances from Voice of Englewood.

Overall, Voice of Englewood has employed 15 young men in the studio, including Melik, who has learned that his talents extend outside the boxing ring. Beyond writing his own music and garnering respect for his creative lyricism, he is a model employee, always on-time and good at teaching younger men how to write lyrics, find beats and put them together to create songs. The money he earns goes to pay bills at home, where he helps take care of younger siblings. “These days, I have a lot of responsibilities,” says the 19-year-old.

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When young men first put pen to paper, their lyrics are often harsh, off-putting and even violent, Hazelgrove says. They use strong language that reveals their deepest fears and anger about being shot, dying young and seeing violence up-close. Over time, the lyrics evolve to more thoughtful reflections, in line with the higher purpose of the Voice of Englewood program.  “The studio is providing another identity for the young men. Being in a gang is an identity crisis. Here, they are a performer, a singer, a studio technician, a songwriter,” she says. “It’s all about trying to get them opportunities.”

Here’s what Restoring the Path achieved with support from African American Legacy

Voice of Englewood’s 5 Key Milestones

Music
studio

Building on its foundation of using boxing to connect with troubled young men, Restoring the Path created a music studio to give them a safe space to share their fears, frustrations and dreams through lyrics and sound. The rap music they create reflects the reality of their lives.

Youth
employment

Fifteen youth have worked at Voice of Englewood, providing them with their first work experiences and a positive way to earn money, contribute to their families and model supportive behavior for younger boys.

Youth
engagement

The studio is a stabilizing force for the young men, most of whom have experienced some trauma at home or in their community. The studio is now part of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Reduction Program; 10 youth have been referred to participate in Voice of Englewood, and two have successfully completed their probation while in the program.

Music video
production

Two music videos have been produced, including one for the song, “I Wanna Live,” which has caught the attention of a music producer who wants to produce a second music video for the song and help it get more exposure nationally.

Public
support

Participants have held four public performances. Their music has led to important cross-cultural exchanges with youth from Chicago’s North Side and north suburban communities, benefiting participants in two ways. First, they owned the stories they shared through their music, serving as powerful, primary voices to their audiences; second, they expanded their points-of-view beyond their immediate communities.

We have something to say about the power of collective giving to improve the quality of lives of African Americans in Chicago: It works.

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© Copyright 2016 African American Legacy. Website design, animation and content by Art On The Loose, Inc. Video production by Epilog Media Design Group. Original photography by Lauren Harris, Tommy Inglis and Jason Jones. Additional photos and footage courtesy of Bruce Powell, Jean-Marc Giboux and the African American Legacy grantees.

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