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Mentor Uses Music To Inspire At-Risk Youth

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) –  A Miami music program is helping young people stay away from dangerous distractions and instead connect with their musical gifts. It’s a mentoring program called Guitars Over Guns, created by Chad Bernstein who turned his passion for music into this arts education and mentoring program. Bernstein believed young people could use music to make their lives better and he focuses on at-risk youth, helping redirect them from possible violence. One of his mentees is 16-year-old Xavier Gustav.

Gustav joined Guitars over Guns when he was still in middle school. He was a natural fit for the program which helps kids cultivate their musical gifts. He wasn’t thinking at all about guns until one changed his life.

“It hit really close to home to lose a family member of one of our kids,” explained Bernstein to CBS4’s Jim Berry.

In a story that made local headlines, Gustav’s 15-year-old cousin was killed. Miami-Dade police charged one of his teenaged friends with manslaughter. He admitted playing with a gun that accidentally went off.

In tragedy, Gustav discovered something beautiful. The Guitars Over Guns organization rallied around him. It produced a video in his cousin’s memory which recently debuted at the Perez Art Museum in downtown Miami.

“This video was inspired by my loss but it’s also inspired by everyone else’s loss,” said Gustav.

The outpouring of support made Gustav realize that he wasn’t just part of a program. He was part of a family.

Twice a week, middle school kids noodle on their guitars, and raise their voices in this unique mentorship program. The idea came to Chad Bernstein nine years ago when he and some fellow musicians visited a Miami juvenile detention center. Kids were turned off by their lectures but turned on by their music.

“It made me realize that if we can do that, we don’t have to wait to get to a juvenile detention center to start working with them,” said Bernstein.

It began with 15 students and five mentors. Now, Guitars Over Guns reaches 600 kids in Miami and Chicago. 31 professional musicians work with the kids.

“There are a lot of students that are looking to fill a void that’s in their life and they may not tell you that,” explained Bernstein. “Music is the medium, it’s our ability to communicate ideas, you don’t argue with music. It’s something that you pour beliefs into and resonates with people.”

It certainly has with Gustav. He has gone on to high school but has gone back to Guitars Over Guns as a mentor himself.

“We don’t just want to teach music, we want to teach life lessons,” said Gustav. “To let you know that if things seem rough you don’t need to go hurt somebody,”

Gustav is helping his students prepare for the next production. The kids are going into a music studio in trendy Wynwood to lay down tracks for a video that promises to be more joyous than the one which paid tribute to gun victims.

“Our mission is to empower our youth with the knowledge and understanding of how powerful their voice is,” explained Bernstein.

Gustav definitely follows his voice.

“My voice is telling me now to just roll with it. Just keep going, ignore the bad stuff, there is something way better for you out there.”

Click here for more information about Guitars Over Guns.

If you are a mentor and would like to share your story with us, please email us at mentoringmatters@cbs.com

Click here for more Mentoring Matters

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