As I’ve mentioned before, this year’s 15th annual American Music Masters series honoring Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew has been a homecoming of sorts for me – taking me back to my former hometown of New Orleans. Last week’s Teachers Rock workshop, featuring Allison Reinhardt and Lawrence Rawlins of the acclaimed Roots of Music program, paid tribute to the musical legacy of both our AMM honorees as well as to the musical heritage of the city of New Orleans, by drawing attention to a program that works tirelessly to keep these musical traditions alive, with students who, in a very real way, are fighting themselves to survive.
As a fourth and fifth grade special education teacher for what is now known as the Recovery School District in New Orleans, I witnessed the struggles of the city’s schoolchildren first-hand. Years of educational neglect coupled with the crippling devastation of Hurricane Katrina left its mark in every imaginable way. The children of New Orleans deserve better.
Unfortunately, as we know all too well, when schools are struggling – financially, academically, or in this case, both – music education is one of the first things to go. In a city like New Orleans, a city that lives and breathes music, this seems almost criminal.
Enter the Roots of Music program, an after-school marching band, music education, and tutoring program, co-founded by Derrick Tabb, drummer for the Rebirth Brass Band. ROM provides music history, theory, and performance instruction as well as mandatory academic tutoring (all participants must maintain at least a 2.5 GPA in school) – five days a week. Participants, ages 9-14, are also served a hot meal and door-to-door busing is provided, all at no cost. No instrument required (ROM provides these as well) – students need only bring themselves, and their desire to succeed. No excuses.
In New Orleans, marching bands reign supreme. They’re more popular than sports, in fact. And the ROM band proudly marches alongside the best – each Mardi Gras season since 2009. I’ve seen them myself, and I will be cheering loudly for them again this year.
But the power of Roots of Music, the power of music itself, goes beyond the parade route. ROM gives students a safe alternative to street life, and all that comes with it. It gives them a taste of success that some might never have felt before – musically, scholastically, and personally. And it gives them a sense of pride in themselves and in their city. You can learn more about Roots of Music here. I urge you do to so.
While the storm certainly exacerbated the crisis of New Orleans public education, many of the problems that NOLA schools face are the same difficulties that teachers and students wrestle with here in Cleveland, and across the country. I hope that in hearing about Roots of Music’s success, Teachers Rock participants were inspired to continue to make positive changes in their own classrooms. Music can help make that happen. Rock and roll can help make that happen. No excuses.