Professional musicians repay their mentors by giving free lessons to Miami youngsters

Nicolaus Gelin, 14, performing at The Gleason Room at the Fillmore Miami Beach.

When Nicolaus Gelin started middle school at Young Men’s Preparatory Academy in Wynwood, he dreamed of being in the school’s music program.

“I saw them play at the pep rallies and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Nicolaus, 14.

The opportunity came in 2013, when the school’s former band director told Nicolaus there was going to be free guitar lessons after school twice a week.

“I went home immediately, asked my mom and I signed up the next day,” Nicolaus said.

The free guitar lessons were sponsored by Young Musicians Unite, a nonprofit organization that provides free music education to more than 70 students in areas of Miami such as Overtown and Wynwood. They are funded through grants from Citizens Interested in the Arts and Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs’ The Youth Arts Enrichment Program, and through partnerships with bands such as Arrowhead, Avalanche and Ripcord.

Young Musicians Unite was founded in 2013 and is led by Sammy Gonzalez, 31, a Miami Beach professional musician who learned to play guitar in the public school system.

“If the free music education I received while in school didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be a musician right now. Which is crazy because I work sometimes 80-plus hours a week doing what I love,” Gonzalez said. “It’s all possible thanks to the great mentors I had that were constants in my life while growing up.”

Gonzalez wanted to give back to public schools that lack financial support in the arts.

YMU started in partnership with the band Reckless Youth, whose members Gonzalez gave private lessons to. The funds collected at performances went directly to buying guitars for Young Men’s Prep Academy and to fund the after-school program.

“The parents of the band members had already a vision for me,” Gonzalez said. “The first shows Reckless Youth played, we donated the money to other foundations. Then the parents and I decided to keep the funds within what we are doing. We said, ‘Why don’t we go into a neighborhood that doesn’t have a great music program?’ ”

Almost four years later, YMU has expanded to provide music education to any student interested in learning from Young Men’s Prep Academy, Jose de Diego Middle School, Booker T. Washington High School and the Overtown Youth Center.

Students who participate in YMU become members of a classical guitar ensemble, a jazz ensemble or a student rock band.

Gonzalez joined forces with Allan Valladares and Juan Camilo Pelaez to mentor the students. All three are New World School of the Arts alumni.

“Sammy is very passionate about this cause,” Pelaez said. “Helping him and spending time with the kids teaching them music brings me great satisfaction because I feel I’m making a difference in their lives.”

After a year of learning guitar under Gonzalez, Nicolaus found his passion in playing the trumpet. Gonzalez helped him score a private lesson with New World Symphony fellow Aaron Norlund.

“I was shocked how good Nicolaus was. He was like a dry sponge ready to absorb as much knowledge as he possibly could in the time we spent together,” Norlund said. “Not only musically was I impressed, but in his ability to communicate. It’s really remarkable to see the support he receives from his parents.”

Nicolaus’ mother, Maryline Gelin, is a physical therapist and his father, Sonder Gelin, is self employed in the transportation field.

Nicolaus auditioned and got accepted to New World School of the Arts High School’s class of 2020.

“Because of Sammy, Nicolaus was able to get help,” Maryline Gelin said. “Sammy is doing wonderful work. The kids flourish through his program, it’s very effective. I appreciate the doors that have been open to Nicolaus.”

YMU students each get eight to 10 lessons a month. All students receive their own instruments, sheet music and other related materials.

Gonzalez hopes to bring YMU to every school in Miami-Dade.

“My vision is to impact as many kids as I can, change their lives, give them music,” Gonzalez said. “Some are just gonna play during our lessons and maybe never play again, but some are gonna make a career out of it and go on to better places.”

Dream realized for Liberty City families who’ve moved into transformed project

Erin Sutherland, Maria Alonso, Mario Artecona and Gene Schaefer of Bank of America with the 2016 Neighborhood Builders Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami: Karin Wright, Maureen Ruggiero, Mark Fenaughty and Tom Byrne.

Overtown Youth Center’s Enrichment Festival immerses community in the arts

Crowd at Enrichment Festival

Students generally spend their days off from school in front of a television or glued to their computer screens, but thanks to the Overtown Youth Center, families in the community got a day to become immersed in the arts instead.

The OYC hosted its first Enrichment Festival on Monday, Jan. 23 on its outside grounds. The free event was open to members of the community and started at 11 a.m.

“We are trying to provide additional art and music enrichment for our students while bringing together our local community by having individuals share their talents with our young people, so they can dream better about their aspirations,” OYC Executive Director Tina Brown said.

Local artists such as MusikForYou performed violin and keyboard renditions of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got you,” while students from Miami Arts Charter School performed an act from the Broadway show, “Dreamgirls.”

Members of the community were hands-on with the arts, participating in an art zone, face painting and crafts while learning more about cultural events that go on in their own backyard.

“I think it’s great because it allows everyone to come out and come together as a community, experience new things and introduce different programs,” said Chimney Purdy, wife to local community vendor, Jackson Bro’s ice cream, who was in attendance.

Other local food vendors making an appearance included Pineapple Express and Out of Town Wings, as well as a crowd favorite, a snow cone and cotton candy machine. When children were finished with their meals, they could either participate in the AET Kids Fit & Fun bus, check out a book from the City of Miami’s public library bookmobile, or make their way over to the Buzz Boxx and receive a free haircut on behalf of Talent4Change.

“We love to do this for the community,” Michael Caraballo, founder of Talent4Change, said. “When kids look better, they feel better.”

Receiving a bigger turn out than they expected, the OYC is going to try and continue hosting this enrichment event every year, in addition to its annual Broadway production put on by the students.


Contagious Giving: Zo’s Winter Groove sets the bar in philanthropy and connectivity

Alonzo Mourning, Grammy-nominated recording artist Jonathan McReynolds, Season 8 Finalist of the voice Koryn Hawthorn, activist/author Kevin Powell and Florida Memorial President Dr. Roslyn Artist serving as panelist for Zo’s Youth Summit Groove.

By Arri & Byler Henry, Generation Next

Over 400 high school students from across Miami-Dade County, filled the seats of the Lou Rauls Auditorium at Florida Memorial University on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 to kick off Zo’s Winter Groove Weekend! Miami Heat Legend and NBA Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning and an esteem group of panelists engaged with these students about the effects of social media, the current state of hip hop music and other pertinent issues affecting their generation during this Third Annual Youth Groove Summit. Facilitated by motivational speaker and author, Terri Crook, students were allowed to use the mic to expose their thoughts and truths openly.

“The lyrics in today’s popular songs change our subconscious mind,” admits Starr Alfonso, a junior at Hialeah High School.

The panel focused on steering kids away from the negative perceptions that today’s music can bring. One question aimed at the panelists addressed who is responsible for what is being played on the airwaves? The radio stations are in a tough spot because they have to play what the masses want to hear to keep a job. The panelists described the situation perfectly, adding that the record labels are partially responsible. “They don’t pay their rappers to put out A level messages.”

Many of the students confessed that they pay more attention to the beat of the music versus the lyrical content allowing Zo and his team to acknowledge the important of separating entertainment from reality for those who do allow the music to sway their thoughts or actions.

“Our President [Barack Obama] is a fan of hip hop music but it’s all about balance,” Mourning calmly tells his attentive young audience in his iconic raspy tone. “If you educate yourself enough, you’ll understand that [trap] music doesn’t reflect your life. Your education will create other options for you and overpower any lyrics that tell you to do/sell drugs, steal or disrespect women.”

During a dialogue about social media being a ‘weapon of mass distraction’, Tracy Mourning, Zo’s astute and ravishing wife reveals, “the worst mistakes you can make happen when you are led by ego.” She recognizes that this current generation lacks love and respect for each other when it comes to bullying and exploiting others via social media. The panel and the audience agreed that not every situation is worth ‘likes’ or sharing online.

Wild N’ Out comedian Darren Brand with his interactive improvisational skits was a hit at the youth summit, giving the students an opportunity to have some much needed fun aside from the serious conversations. The panel ended in prayer, led by Koryn Hawthorn, Season 8 finalist of the Voice, hoping to inspire participants to move forward in love. Students then enjoyed a catered lunch at the University’s Ballroom with 99 Jamz.

On Saturday, the Mournings hosted their Family Health and Wellness Groove, a fun day/5k event offering free health screenings, athletic activities and fun for the whole family.

Comedian and actor Gary Owen flabbergasted and amused attendees Sunday at the Comedic Groove with jokes ranging from President-elect Donald Trump to his experiences being married to a Black woman. Saxophonist extraordinaire Mike Phillips brought down the house at the comedy show hosted by DJ Irie at the beautiful JW Marriott Marquis in Miami. This VIP event aids with raising funds for Mourning’s philanthropic efforts. Mayor Wayne Messam, of Miramar, was in attendance and remarked, “Supplying the resources to empower our youth is the best thing we can do.”

The Mourning Family Foundation’s programs (Overtown Youth Center and Honey Shine, Inc.) served over 700 students residing in South Florida  ranging from ages 8 to 25. The Groove provides monetary support to both the Overtown Youth Center and Honey Shine, Inc.

For more information on how to contribute to their cause, please visit




Staff Report

MIAMI – Last week, the Talent4Change Foundation launched its ‘Buzz It Forward’ campaign by debuting its signature initiative, The Buzz Boxx, during Art Basel week.

The Buzz Boxx is a container-based barbershop designed to be placed at various locations that offers grooming and mentoring to young men ages 7-17 who live in poverty-stricken areas.

The mission of the foundation is to inspire, unite and empower children in underserved communities. Its founder, Michael Caraballo, introduced the initiative to the gathered crowd.

“The purpose of Buzz It Forward is to help kids look better so they can feel better (and) in turn do better,” Caraballo said. “It’s an incentive- based reward system that we’ve created to encourage kids to keep doing better, whether that be doing better in school and/or participating in community service.”

The launch included a ribbon cutting ceremony and an official presentation by special guests including Tina Brown, executive director of the Overtown Youth Center.

Brown shared her enthusiasm about the Buzz It Forward campaign’s potential to inspire youth to entrepreneurship.

“The Buzz Boxx concept is truly an attractive and innovative concept for positive youth engagement. Self-confidence starts with the way individuals look and feel about themselves,” Brown said. “I am hopeful that (the) Buzz Boxx will spark entrepreneurial energy within young people as this may be an opportunity for them to meaningfully engage in the process of learning how to run a business. It’s the coolest idea I’ve seen all year.”

‘Buzz it Forward’ is a component of the ‘Do Better Project’ created by Amir Youssef, program director for Talent4Change and owner of the Chop Shop Barbershop. The project is designed to encourage youth to do better at home, in school and in their communities.

“If you look good, you feel good. Buzz it Forward helps kids earn the right to choose whatever type of haircut they like. Whether it’s getting good grades, volunteering or helping others, we want them to do better,” Youssef said.

Youssef also heralded his belief that mentoring, instilling self-confidence and teaching youth to have a positive body image will encourage young men to be their best selves.

“The barber-client relationship has always been long-term and we want a specific barber to mentor, educate and service the kids for at least one year,” Youssef said. “There’s a need for grooming kids long-term. I believe in order to inspire them to do better, they need consistent role models.”

Currently located at 2250 NW 2 Avenue in Miami, near the grounds of Mana Wynwood, the inaugural Buzz Boxx is a uniquely customized 8’ by 20’ shipping container converted into a fully functional, portable barbershop complete with lighting and electricity.

The prototype will eventually be dropped off at the Overtown Youth Center, which has been provided vouchers to reward deserving young men with free haircuts. The Chop Shop, in conjunction with The Mavericks Barbershop and Red Carpet Barbershop will staff the Buzz Boxx and facilitate the first wave of free haircuts.

The long-term plan is to place a Buzz Boxx in underserved communities nationwide, where it will remain for one year at a time. Organizations, foundations, schools and community centers are encouraged to get involved with the campaign.

Free haircuts are funded through donations that can be made by visiting


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