Empower Youth in Back of the Yards
Meet Diana M. Diana M. is an 18-year-old attending high school in a neighborhood called
Check back soon for opportunities to see our work in action!
Working collaboratively with local schools and the broader community, Guitars Over Guns provides students a wealth of experiences in the arts. All students in the music program learn to read and write contemporary music, play instruments and perform on stage and/or in a recording studio. Performances and gallery displays are also integral to our arts-based mentorship programs.
We are happy to be serving the following schools and community partners:
Wendell Phillips Academy High School
Located in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Haven Studios offers a safe space for young people to come together and make their community safer and stronger through artistic expression and outreach.
Our mentors come from different walks of life and artistic paths, all connected by their love for the arts and a passion to pay it forward.
They are Guitars Over Guns’ heart and soul, implementing and customizing our comprehensive curriculum that uses arts-based mentoring as a powerful intervention tool for young people.
1000 W 15th Street
Chicago, IL 60608
Meet Diana M. Diana M. is an 18-year-old attending high school in a neighborhood called
This lively gathering of friends brought together a community of first-time supporters and longtime fans to enjoy epic live performances and more.
On April 15th and 16th, nearly 80 students from our program sites across Chicago came together for our First Annual Regional Recording & Music Video Project!
Although born in “The LAND” (Cleveland, Ohio), Iyana considers herself an “adopted” Chicago-based Artist, redefining her skills and talents in vocal performance and creative writing. Music; singing is her first love.
“There is power in the words we use and if used in the most creative ways, we can influence great change. Let’s write a song.”
Vocals & Dance
Oliv Blu is a singer/songwriter based out of the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Working within the genres of Neo-Soul, RnB, and Jazz, she has grown up with music and the arts having a profound influence upon her life, and began her journey into the world of professional music in 2016. She entered the realm of music with a collective called Freesole, a group composed of rappers, singers, producers and designers and began to branch out and perform as a solo artist in 2017. Most recently, she has appeared on the NBC television show The Voice, and made it to the Top 13 on the show’s sixteenth season, which began airing February 2019. Music and performing are a passion for Oliv, and through her work she connects with her audience, sharing her light and inspiring others to embrace confidence from within and to love who they are in their own skin. After embarking on a journey of self love through her natural hair journey, she felt that she unlocked what was holding her back from sharing her talents onstage with the world and within 4 short years she went from singing at local open mics to performing on The Voice with coaches John Legend and Blake Shelton. Between her music career and Guitars Over Guns, she hopes to encourage others to embrace their own power and natural beauty so that they too can discover just how far their talents can take them.
Guitar & Vocals
Dana Gatziolis spent her twenties traveling the world, living in various places. From buying a cheap guitar from a tiny shop hidden in the heart of Rome, to surfing the California coasts to singing in the honky-tonks of downtown Nashville, she’s always sought the road less traveled. Brimming with passion for people and creativity, she aims to live with no stone left unturned. Her love for storytelling and hunger for a full, vibrant life gives her voice and songs an earthy, soulful, yet approachable sound. Friendly folk may be the perfect description.
In 2016, she wrote and recorded her first EP album in an East Nashville mansion-turned-recording-studio. Since then, she went through some life experiences that broke, shifted and expanded her in new ways. This has changed the way she writes and approaches music. She’s currently having fun exploring her new voice, and knows it’s an ongoing path, the creative way. Dana believes that music has the power to save the most downcast soul. As a trauma-informed coach, she seeks to use music as a healing modality in her clients’ lives.
Music and Dana are inseparable. Without one, you wouldn’t have the other. Music is, undoubtedly, her ultimate expression of self. She’s so excited to begin this year of mentoring students through Guitars Over Guns, helping them to find their own way of expressing themselves through the gift of music.
Vocals & Songwriting
Originating from the southeast side of Chicago in Avalon Park, R&B/hip hop singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, poet, and freelance model, Ifeanyi Elswith is “one to watch.”
Combining elements of pop, hip hop, and jazz, Elswith brings a fresh spin to all genres. Her slinky soprano vocals and vulnerable “witticisms” shape her inspirational sound.
Born to a Garifuna mother and Kriol father from Belize, Elswith’s Caribbean roots are a fundamental part of her music and brand. Ifeanyi’s girl-next-door vibes, paired with her healing tone, are unique ingredients sure to leave you feeling reflective and encouraged.
Poetry & Creative Writing
Zaria “(Zee)niith” Evans is a Chicago native and a practicing photographer and cinematographer. She’s been a professional inn her field for almost three years under the tutelage of her mentor. Zaria describes herself as passionate, dedicated, and ambitious and these qualities show themselves in the classroom. She’s a site-coordinator at her alma mater, Kenwood Academy, where she teaches photography and cinema, along with self-love, accountability, and empathy to her high school students. Zaria’s main goal is to give back to her community and use her experiences to foster unity, compassion, discipline, and responsibility in the minds of her students and her friends.
“Everything you’ve gone though, even the things you thought would break you, happened so you could make sure the next generation doesn’t have as steep of a learning curve as you did.” —Zeeniith
Studio Director, Haven Studio
My name is Jeremiah Fristoe. I’m a songwriter and producer who uses my talents to educate, entertain and better my community. I volunteer my time teaching children and young adults about self-expression and creativity. I use lyricism and digital production to help nurture people’s talents and fine-tune their gifts. My goal is to increase communication, unity and self-love through music and art.
Drums & Keys
Joaquin Garcia’s father was a professional drummer in Chicago for over a decade and Jaoquin began playing drums professionally when he was 7. By 9, he had won regional Chicago percussion competitions. Joaquin began formal study of the piano at age 9 and trained as a classical pianist for the next 9 years. After winning a couple piano competitions in 2005 on the city and state level for renditions of Chopin and Lecuona repertoire. Joaquin received a full tuition scholarship to attend Columbia College Chicago as a dual major in composition and performance in classical piano performance. Joaquin began studying the art of Jazz in college and credits that shift to his discovery of Afro-Cuban music a year later as a supplement. Joaquin began performing professionally his junior year of college in Chicago and graduated with honors in 2011. After a year off of academia to acquire more experience and grit, he applied and was accepted with full scholarship to Northwestern University for a Masters in Jazz Studies. Graduating with honors in 2014, Joaquin expanded his professional working base to include New York City and Miami metropolitan areas.
Joaquin is now a national and international touring musician with projects in China, South Korea, Indonesia, and Mexico, and continues to stay active nationally with festivals around the U.S. Joaquin is a masterclass lecturer, recording artist, instructor, music director, and professional pianist in various music scenes with his own debut Jazz album expected to be released in Spring of 2018.
Alex “Tobias Black” Glover is an emcee who speaks the truth through his music. Born in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, Tobias always had an ear for music. In the 90s, he was introduced to hip hop through Shaq’s first album, Shaq-Diesel. However, his passion for hip hop was truly developed when he discovered the Wu-Tang Clan. “I heard my uncle playing Wu-Tang’s ‘Enter The 36 Chambers,’ and I remembered sneaking to listen to that album.”
From that point forward, Tobias was hooked on hip hop. Writing rhymes and poetry at an early age, he knew he was gifted. When things got tough in life, music and comics were always an outlet to escape.
Tobias has a very eclectic taste in music. He’s always explored various types to influence and sculpt his rhymes and poetry. Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Linkin Park, Coldplay, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common and Wu-Tang Clan were and remain to be his favorites and iconic lyricists. “Music is about self-expression. I feel your music should represent who you are and your real life experiences,” he says. “That’s the truest element of the art. When I write, I think about things I’ve been through, and I always stay true to what I believe. Hip hop has many different components, and I want to focus on the positive, because my city already has a negative image.”
Keys & Production
Along with performing music for 20 years, David is a skilled composer and songwriter, specializing in emotively driven compositions. As a shy and nerdy kid, music and storytelling helped David become comfortable in self-expression and expand his perspective of the world. His life’s work is to inspire others to be creative, open-minded leaders through music and storytelling.
Rap & Production
Gerard Gueringer is a sound engineer, producer, rapper and songwriter from the Southside of Chicago, IL. While being a consumer and writer for most of his younger years he would discover his passion for sound in 2015. Since then he has served as an engineer for artists throughout Chicago and executive produced three projects with his collective “BLOTR/W” where he is also featured as a rapper and singer. “The process of creating music is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Being able to create resonance with the tools and instruments we are given is greatly underestimated. It has the potential to influence big changes in the world.”
Guitar & Production
Henry Hollinshead is a Chicago based producer, instrumentalist, artist, and engineer from Raleigh, North Carolina. Growing up playing violin and guitar, he realized his creative side after being introduced to the music production software Ableton. He then became infatuated with music production, and focused his free time towards growing as an artist. Through his alias Hollowhead, he has released multiple solo projects as well as collaborative efforts with other artists. Prior to becoming more invested in music production, he was a lifelong competitive swimmer, which led him to various leadership and mentor opportunities. Playing music has always been something that has helped him take his mind off of life’s stressors, and he is excited to help others find that same passion through Guitars Over Guns.
Keys & Production
Kenneth Leftridge Jr. is a saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and arranger. Hailing from the south suburbs of Chicago, Country Club Hills, Illinois, he started playing saxophone in 03’, studied music at Rich Central High School in Olympia Fields then pursued a degree in Jazz Performance at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois. After college, Ken has had the privilege to play concerts with many great artist including: Solange, The Lionel Hampton, Jenifer Hudson, Carl Thomas, The Cliff Wallace Big Band, The O’Mys, Sam Trump, Swamp Dogg, Matt Muse, No Name, Manny Torres, Wyatt Wadell, Shawnee Dez, Sydney Jay, Ryan Alexander and many other amazing acts.
Josh Levine is a Chicago-based musician and actor. He is currently an ensemble member of Theater Unspeakable and performs as the keyboardist for Lunar Ticks. Along with his main projects, Josh teaches privately and works with different groups to devise new work.
Guitar & Drums
Ryan Mayer is a multi-instrumentalist musician, lyricist, songwriter and producer from Chicago. Over the years, he has collaborated on many diverse projects, from traditional Middle Eastern, North and East African, and Afro-Colombian music, to reggae and hip hop. Currently, he is focusing on recording all the original music he has written during the journey under his artist name, RA’YON I. He has worked as a teaching artist for the past 15 years, spreading his love for music to the youth and inspiring the next generation. In addition to Guitars Over Guns, Ryan also teaches with Ravinia’s Music Discovery Program and Merit School of Music.
Bold, sensual vocalist, Alysha Monique, mesmerizes audiences with the sultry vocal styling of jazz and soul music. Her endearing aura bewitches listeners into the essence of love, individuality and self-actualization. Surrounded by incredible musicians who strive to push their music to an innovative level, Alysha’s creativity and originality continue to ascend upward. An experience with Alysha is striking, genuine and poignant.
My name is Jesse Parks I was born in Lewisville, Texas. I moved to Chicago when I was 6 years old. and I am a music producer and a musician based in the Chicagoland area. As a musician, I’ve opened up for Da Brat, Faith Evans, Al Hudson, One Way, Elephant Man, Twista, Project Pat, Rakim, Chance the Rapper and a few other artists. I have performed on WGNs “Windy City Live” two times, I performed at Millennium Park for the annual blues fest with Rhymefest, I performed at WGCIs Home Turf concert with Shawnna, Reggie Rock Club with Taylor Bennett, Buddy Guy’s Legends, The Elbow Room, The Underground Wonderbar, Sub T, Chicago Theatre and many more.
I started out at the legendary Checkerboard Lounge and was quickly called to play guitar at other venues and eventually began to headline at various shows around Chicago. I’ve played at many other clubs and events outside of Chicago including ”So Far Sounds” in both (New York and Chicago) and various.
With an emphasis on lyrical prowess and a modern melodic twist, Ron Parks is an enigma. With topics including social justice and modern social commentary, his music evokes the question, “When is it a good time to quit, if ever?” His songs range from the legacy of a couch-surfing negro (“Couch surf”) to brag-heavy, aggressive lyrics (“IGAF”), to demanding all opposition to firmly “move” out of his way (“Move”). Built on a base of self-awareness, he uses his unique voice and whimsical lyrics to dissect the many peaks and valleys of his personality and his life to date.
Ron Parks has graced the stage at multiple local Chicago venues. He performed at Columbia College’s 2019 Manifest and was a featured performer at Young Chicago Authors’ “Wordplay” open mic in 2018. In 2017 he was direct support for Matt Muse’s “The SiKK Tour” which featured 13 stops across the U.S. and Canada.
Jarmiah Scott, known on stage as Heart Cry, is a poet and a writer who recently completed her senior year at Chicago Military Academy in Bronzeville. She first joined Guitars Over Guns as an eighth grade student at Beethoven Elementary School, and has since been a member of our Hip Hop & Entrepreneurship program through After School Matters, Guitars Over Guns R.I.S.E., and Haven Studio, where she writes and records under the direction of Add-2. Heart Cry is a passionate advocate for social justice. In 2018, she was selected to perform in Breakout LIVE, a showcase of Chicago’s most inspiring activists, artists, and entrepreneurs at the iconic Studebaker Theater, where she shared the stage with Pinqy Ring, Hamilton actor Ari Asfar, and others. She has also performed for CreativeMornings, WVON, Chicago Peace Fellows, Google, the Obama Foundation, and countless others. Since graduating, she has focused on writing, releasing, and copyrighting her poetry, while serving her community as a volunteer and peer mentor. Her friends describe her as a talented, generous, and dedicated friend who inspires them through her words and actions.
Keys & Production
Mirza Shams is a multidisciplinary music artist, sound healer, and community organizer proficient in piano, keys, synth, composing, producing, performing, DJing and teaching. Practicing for over a decade now in different professional settings between studios, stages and classrooms. Featured under the stage name NAXÖ in the Chicago Reader, Chicago Zine Fest, Windy City Times, Chicago Tribune, Philly Weekly, and more. Community outreach experience includes participating in queer festivals and immigrant organizations across the United States as a creative director, workshop presenter, advisory board member, campaigner, and cultural performer. Trained in mental health interventions and CPR. Passionate about using music to heal trauma, raise awareness and create beauty and belonging here in Chicagoland, including by teaching children and folks in under-resourced communities. In 2021, NAXÖ released a 9 songs album called, TESA’A and a 3 songs EP called, 3+4=5. Songs are on queer culture, migration, postcolonialism, healing and re-imagining a better world. Link, https://linktr.ee/naxoriental
Guitar, Bass & Keys
Guitar & Bass
Dexter Sims has been a Bassist in the Chicago area for more that two decades. He is originally from the south side of Chicago. He has lived on the east coast, in the Boston area and in New York; and studied music at the Berklee College of Music.
In addition to working with Guitars Over Guns Chicago, Dexter has worked or performed with Maggie Brown, Oscar Brown Jr., Harold Mabern, Milt Trenier, George Freeman, Bobby Broom, Alex Bugnon, Robert Irving III, Sherry Scott (formerly with Earth, Wind and Fire), Randy Weston, Ernie Wilkins, Phil Cohran, and many more.
He has been featured on a number of television and radio shows: Channel 62 – “The Cutting Edge with Darryll King”, Cable Access Channel- “What’s the 411”, ABC Channel 7 – “Chicago Christmas Special with Bill Campbell”.
Dexter has traveled to many U. S. cities and internationally. Dexter is also Bassist with the “Wooten Choral Ensemble”, a gospel group that has toured the world over the last half century.
Dexter currently has a CD available “Peace of Mind”, and has had his music featured on commercials by Marriott and others.
Guitar & Bass
Adam Stein (Adam Eleven) was born and raised in Chicago, IL. He started playing drums at six years old, then guitar, bass, and piano in the years to follow. He is a self-taught musician, recording artist, producer, and promoter who is actively gigging on electric bass guitar with one cover band, one tribute band, and one original band. Additionally, you can find Adam playing drums for several improv comedy shows. Credentials include: Working alongside DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill, opening for Soul Asylum, performances at Taste of Chicago, Summer Fest Wisconsin, House of Blues, Hard Rock Cafe, Sketch Fest, and many street festivals/venues around the city. Adam Stein is a DePaul University alumnus holding a Bachelor’s degree is Psychology with a focus on human development.
Raised on Chicago’s Southside, Dennis’ musical education began at the age of 4 with the piano, transitioning to the violin then alto sax and finally drums though his college career. During his undergraduate years at NIU, Dennis began to develop his production skills, working with local artists and finally focusing on producing the group he co-founded, H2O Soul. Upon graduating from NIU, he attended Columbia to pursue his Masters in Music Business. Dennis worked in music advertising at a Chicago Production House called Genuine Music, creating original compositions and sound design for major brands from 2006-2011. Now focused on teaching production and engineering at the Haven Studio, collaborating with other artists and serving the local music community through his nonprofit, Khemistry, Dennis hopes to work through music to make his voice heard and make a positive difference.
Mateo Zapata, born in Bogota, Colombia is of Colombian & Chilean descent. As a creative at the intersection of the arts, photojournalism, and community advocacy his work is dedicated to documenting narratives from across Chicago. Mateo has worked with La Casa Norte, Chicago Public Schools, San Jose Obrero Mission, YWCA Chicago, Pa’lante! HBO Max, Equiticity, Chicago White Sox, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. His experience in multimedia production ranges from working on documentaries, producing public service announcements, directing broadcast ads, and ideating national brand campaigns while also helping develop initiatives to raise awareness of the need to end police violence in Black & Brown communities.