by Chicago Regional Director Andrew DeMuro
What words come to mind when you see the young drummer in this photo? For me, focused, determined, and driven are all at the forefront. Believe it or not, Yailin Rojas — a South Side Chicago native and the daughter of Mexican immigrants — hardly embodied those traits when she first came to Guitars Over Guns.
I remember Yailin as a 6th grader at Evergreen Academy Middle School — a bright-eyed, 11-year-old live wire who couldn’t decide where to invest her time. On a given afternoon, Yailin could be found playing basketball, painting the class mural, or performing in the drumline. Today, Yailin cites her constant bouncing between activities as her search for a more permanent home — a place where she could be herself and truly test the limits of her own capabilities. She found that home in Guitars Over Guns.
Since a rocky 6th grade year which saw her leave and rejoin the group on three distinct occasions, Yailin settled in as lead drummer in the Guitars Over Guns rock band, and has become one of our most committed young musicians in the Chicago region. A fiend for a good challenge, Yailin has relished in opportunities to audition for select ensembles, lead band rehearsals, try new instruments (she already knows five), and perform original music. She’s shared her talents with peers from every corner of our city as a member of the CPS All-City Band, and at venues ranging from the United Center, Do Division Street Fest and Reggie’s Rock Club, to the Ronald McDonald House, Mariano’s Market, and the McKinley Park Public Library.
Yailin’s peers say her positive attitude is contagious, and while they look to her as a leader, she is seen first and foremost as a fierce and loyal friend who always goes to bat for her own. In 2018, Yailin was recognized by the City of Chicago as a member of the Rising Stars Honor Roll, a group of 30 exceptional youth who demonstrate creative leadership and serve others through the arts.
As a freshman at Curie Metro High School this Fall, Yailin plans to return to her alma mater once a week to serve as a peer mentor in Guitars Over Guns, earning community service hours while working with small groups of students seeking the same home she found during her first year at Evergreen. “Being in GOGO has helped me believe in others as much as I believe in myself,” Yailin said of her experience. “I want to teach students the same lessons I’ve learned.” And who wouldn’t want to learn from the girl in that picture?!