The group of Flint children sing out. The words are strong and meaningful, especially so since they wrote the song themselves.
Gathered in the makerspace of Factory Two, these children are the first in the United States to participate in a program called Amani-Children in Harmony, the purpose of which is to “build a lifetime of gender equity and empathy through music and emotional intelligence.” It also is operating Tanzania, India, and soon elsewhere in the United States, according to its website.
“Music is a universal language,” said Marvin Diem, Factory Two program coordinator. “Even if you aren’t a very skilled musician, you can still send a message and get a point across.”
The 10-day program transformed Factory Two lobby space into a creative hub, filled with musical instruments, arts and crafts supplies, and whiteboards. Two days were dedicated to mentor training and the other eight were with children ages 8 through 12. The program was developed as a partnership between Southwestern Academy and Factory Two.
“Kids very early on will develop a fixed mindset about what they can and cannot do,” said Erik Gregory, executive director of Children in Harmony. “But that mindset can be changed. These kids can learn things here that they were told they couldn’t.”
The students explored a variety of emotional development and music education practices—from simple breathing exercises and drum circles to the grand finale performance of the song they wrote themselves and performed using acoustic instruments and Music Maker Jam, a beat making app.
They had help from a group of trained mentors and volunteers, as well as guest appearances from musicians and Flint natives Manny Torres and Ashley Peacock, who served as a living example that a person really can do music forever.
“This program gives kids permission to be themselves and empowers them,” Peacock said. “How many of these gets don’t get that anywhere else? How many aren’t being empowered elsewhere?”