Our Mission

empowering youth through
music & mentorship

Guitars over Guns

Kids are awesome. They’re creative. They’re fearless. They’re bursting with energy and hungry for knowledge. They know how to make the most of every opportunity.

But kids from our most vulnerable communities don’t always have the chance to discover just how awesome they can be. These kids are filled with promise. They have big dreams and bold stories to tell. And yet, due to circumstances and systems beyond their control, they don’t always know that they have the freedom to choose a path of their own.

At Guitars Over Guns, we’re changing that through music, because we believe that music, combined with strong, consistent mentorship, can reshape the trajectory of a student’s life.

What We Do

School-Based Programs

We partner with middle schools, high schools, and K-8 centers across the country to offer after-school programming that engages students in creative disciplines ranging from instrumental music (guitar, bass, drums, keys), vocals, songwriting, and music production to rap and hip hop, creative writing, spoken word, and visual art. Students receive one-on-one and ensemble instruction, close mentoring relationships, and academic support.

Community-Based Programs

We operate summer camps, alumni programs, and community recording studios in neighborhood hubs that welcome participants outside of our school portfolio. Our community-based programs have collaborated with performing arts centers, parks departments, churches, and recording studios to present accessible arts-based enrichment that reaches youth in their own communities.

M-Power Mental Health Program

In the Fall of 2019, we launched M-Power, our first-ever dedicated mental health initiative. The program, powered by the Florida Blue Foundation, provides accessible mental health counseling and resources to our youth, embedded within our arts-based mentorship programming. Our mentorship team also receives vital, year-round trainings and professional development around Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and trauma-informed best practices.

How We Do It

Self-Expression

Our students' exploration of
their own creative voice.

Mentorship

A gateway to lasting connection
between student and mentor.

Performance

The opportunity to put it all
to the test on stage.

Social Emotional Learning

Guitars Over Guns’ unique curriculum emphasizes social-emotional learning and outcomes through music and arts instruction. After each session, mentors assess students’ academic performance, school and program attendance, artistic progress and peer interactions. We use social-emotional learning measurements to evaluate key competencies such as empathy, teamwork, initiative, responsibility and problem solving. Recent evaluations indicate that over 90 percent of Guitars Over Guns students improved their academic performance, overall conduct and decision-making skills. These measurements are byproducts of a greater shift that is occurring in the way these young people think about the world and their place in it. 

Our Imapct

of students reported that Guitars Over Guns has helped them feel more confident taking healthy risks and trying new things.

of students could identify a personal goal they set and achieved with the help of a Guitars Over Guns mentor.

of students agree that Guitars Over Guns has helped them learn to appreciate their own talents and abilities.

of students reported using the skills they learned through Guitars Over Guns to help them make positive decisions in their everyday lives.

Our Story

Launched in 2008 with a flagship mentoring program at North Miami Middle School, Guitars Over Guns now operates in Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles and has served more than 6,000 students over the past 14 years. Guitars Over Guns began as an informal music mentoring project led by Dr. Chad Bernstein, serving youth from under-resourced neighborhoods in Miami. Chad received a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami in 2012, turning the focus of his academic studies to Guitars Over Guns in his dissertation. This paved the way for the organization’s research-based methodology and set the stage for Chad to take Guitars Over Guns on as a full-time career. Upon observing the students’ achievements both on stage and in the classroom, Chad formalized the program and partnered with local schools and peer organizations to impact even more youth. Since then, the program has grown to offer no-cost music instruction, mentorship, academic support, and mental health programming to young people across the country, all backed by a data-driven curriculum. With the support of our mentors, staff, community partners, board of directors and passionate advocates around the world, Guitars Over Guns is ready to inspire and empower students everywhere to #ChooseYourSound.