by board member & Miami mentor Junior Pierre
It all started in the very four walls of Mr. De Leon’s classroom at North Miami Middle. At that moment I grew a huge interest in playing guitar. Jono realized that and invited me to join Guitars Over Guns. After one session, I fell in love with the program, and that was the initial start of my musical journey. I did have to leave the school after that year because of my behavior but still kept connected through social media. Entering high school is when I decided to go back and check it out, because I kept seeing so many good things happening on Facebook and definitely wanted to be a part of it. Jono invited me to be a peer mentor and teach guitar to the younger students. That experience literally shifted my perspective. It allowed me to realize so many things about myself and how important mentorship really is. I had moments that made me realize, “Wow, that was really me sitting in these exact chairs.” Working with the kids, I grew my capacity as a leader and my ability to understand that everyone has a story that deserves to be listened to.
Although I had become a peer mentor and continued using my abilities to teach the kids, I knew that wasn’t it with my involvement in the program. So I had a conversation with my fellow alum and peer mentor Rody about starting a Guitars Over Guns alumni band, and he was completely down for it! So I reached out to a couple friends and got the first Guitars Over Guns alumni band started. We’ve had amazing opportunities to perform all over Miami and meet some of the greatest musicians living right now. We did not take that lightly, and have appreciated every moment of it. That experience is what shaped us into the musicians and leaders that we are today. Being able to walk into some of the world’s most famous studios at that age was life-changing! It blew our minds away and allowed us to have a better look at the possibilities available to us not only in music, but in life. We understood the importance of hard work and how, if you want something, then you have to work towards it.
You would think that my story ends there – but NO! I was then offered a position on the board of directors for the entire organization! Not only was I in complete shock, but I also knew that this would be one of the biggest opportunities for me to learn and grow. Being in a position to help Guitars Over Guns give the same opportunity that I have had to others is all I can ever ask for. I’m especially honored to be the youngest member of the board, and to be someone who has been through the Guitars Over Guns program and found success and growth through it – a huge testament to the hard work and dedication of those who make this happen daily. I love the direction the program is headed and want to be a part of it every step of the way.
The Obama Foundation invited Guitars Over Guns to the MBK Rising! summit in Oakland, California. Chad invited me to come alongside him to represent the organization and the hundreds of students the program works with. I was so grateful for this opportunity, because I got to hear and meet some of the country’s most prominent speakers, athletes and actors. I was surrounded by hundreds of hungry young black men and young men of color who all had the same desire to see change in their communities. Motivated, inspired, and grateful describes how I felt about that trip. The biggest highlight was meeting Barack Obama himself, and being able to shake his hand and share a couple of words. That trip was definitely life-changing and reassured me that the future is in good hands.
Chad has seen something in me that I probably would have never seen, and I want to thank him and the organization for believing in me! Guitars Over Guns has shaped my future desires and what I want to get accomplished. I want to encourage those who are in need of it, whether through music or speaking. I truly believe that the best is yet to come for the organization and the direction its headed, and am grateful to be a part of the history taking place at my very front door!