Philly Rising: Beyond the Bars uses music to break cycles of violence and incarceration

Antionette Lee
December 06, 2019 - 4:00 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Beyond the Bars began as a free music program for juveniles in correctional facilities. It was created to offer an outlet for creativity and expression to those who needed it, and along the way, interrupt cycles of violence and incarceration. 

Co-executive director Matthew Kerr says after almost five years, the program is now breaking barriers across the city of Philadelphia. They've expanded to serving young people all around the city, helping them find their voice and their talent.  

"A lot of our students have been through a lot and we want our students to have a safe space where they can channel all of those emotions into positive healthy ways, in a community space where they’re supported by their peers, where they’re supported by loving teachers who care about them " he said. 

What makes their unique program special, Kerr says, is the safe space they've created for students to learn and grow, a space that wouldn't be possible without passionate teachers like Betsaleel Charmelus. 

"Giving them these tools to express themselves artistically and creatively allows them to open up their range of expression," Charmelus said. 

Students learn songwriting and how to play several different instruments. 

Senior Marvin Warren says the experience is more than music.

"Before I started coming here it really wasn't like a lot of people who I could play music with or listen to the same kind of music, so this has allowed me to express myself and connect with different people, and we be on the same level mentally and understand we're here to play music and create a sound, create something from nothing," Warren said. 

He's also benefited from the career services that the group offers.  

The exposure from their concerts at World Cafe Live and other Philadelphia venues has also helped him network for future opportunities.

Kerr says the programs is only possible thanks to the used guitars and other instruments generously donated by patrons. 

"We're accepting any used instruments, we're always in need of instruments because we also have a lending library where we give out instruments to our students," Kerr added.