“They call Baltimore the ‘The City that Reads,’/ But sometimes it feels more like “The City Bleeds,”/ And the politicians never take care of me / So we got to stick together if we want to be free” – Isis Ayers, 9th grade 

Though some of the gritty lyrics sharply contrast against the innocence of their faces, the words of Isis Ayers and her fellow interns at the Beats Not Bullets Internship Program are straight from the heart.

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Kariz Marcel speaks to interns of the Beats Not Bullets Internship Program about grammar in emails and other forms of written communication.

The pain is real, but so too is the vibrant ray of hope offered by their clear, strong voices and will to thrive.

“It’s our perspective,” said Isis Ayers, a rising high school freshman. Ayers said the program helps her express herself. “I write about what I’m going through.”

Twice a week the Beats Not Bullets Program interns meet to hone the skills needed to create and record music. They also learn the finer points of navigating the music industry and how to conduct solid business.

“The whole goal is to get them ready for a professional setting. The business side of it is really important,” said Kariz Marcel, whose own Afro EDM compositions set both Light City and Artscape ablaze earlier this summer. “Before we even get into the creative side and start writing and making beats, we make sure that we handle business first.”

In a city that has logged 174 homicides, as of  Aug. 3, since New Year’s Day, the teens of Beats Not Bullets are offered not only a safe haven during the city’s hot summer months, but a chance to process their thoughts and emotions through the recording arts.

“We’re speaking what we have gone through- our struggles. We’ve experienced more at a young age than people who may be older,” said Jason Davidson, 17.My friend died right in front of my face at a young age. That changes your whole mindset.”

Aside from gaining insight on making rough drafts, editing work, and blind carbon copying emails, the interns are also picking up strong mentors who have paid their dues to the Baltimore community and art scene.

Artists and instructors like Kevin “Ogun” Beasley and Otis “Vito” Eldridge help conduct the sessions that are based on the curriculum created by Marcel.

“I was a Baltimore youth,” said Damond Blue, who told the AFRO his own experience with an arts organization in middle school inspired him to give back. “It’s important because there are less resources in the community today. There are less playgrounds, recreation centers, and places where kids can seek refuge. We wanted to create that ourselves and we are all Black men doing this so it’s a different perception and a different vibe. It gives the world something else to see other than what they see on CNN. “

Blue created the program in partnership with his Damond Blue Music Group and Marcel’s Kariz Kids Youth Enrichment Services. The mentors will continue to work with students throughout the school year to make sure their interns stay on track academically. The men hope to hire the teens in their own organizations as peer-to-peer mentors, while also spreading their curriculum to other schools and community organizations.

“I think it’s a good program because it’s keeping me out of trouble,” said Haymar Sims, 15.You know there’s a lot of dangerous stuff going on out here in the streets- especially in the City- period.”

Sims said he enjoys learning about how to upgrade his work by swapping basic words and phrases for expressions that make people do double-take and ask “What word did he just say?”

“I’m actually teaching them while I’m teaching myself,” said Sims. “I can be something different.”

For more information on the Beats Not Bullets Internship Program go to damondblue.com/beatsnotbullets.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer