|Saving Kids Through Music
In my work, I sometimes get to meet important and famous musicians. Let me tell you about two very important musicians that you may not have heard of…
I met Fernando Pullum a few years ago, helping him to select several Kawai digital pianos for Washington Prep High School. Fernando was music director there at the time. Located in South Central LA, students at Washington Prep face daily challenges that many of us can’t imagine. Forty percent either live in foster care or with relatives other than their parents. Many grow up in families in which no one has ever gone to college. Simply walking to school can be a risky endeavor for them.
Yet, at one point, 161 out of 163 of Fernando’s former band students had graduated and gone on to four-year schools… and one of the two that didn’t went to culinary school instead. This remarkable achievement can be attributed to instilling the ideals of hard work and respect, all while having genuine love and high expectations for the students. Fernando was known to even give his home telephone number to his students on the first day of class. “You don’t want any of them to slip through your fingers”, he once told an LA Times reporter.
Fernando gave much of himself to his students, but he demanded much in return. For instance, in their “Kids Helping Kids” program, students would spend Saturday mornings giving music lessons to younger kids from the community. (That’s what the digital pianos were for.)
Growing up in a tough part of Chicago and raised mostly by his great-grandmother, Fernando’s experience was similar to that of his students. Were it not for the extraordinary efforts of one music teacher to get him into college, Fernando says his life may have been very different. Later, when he asked his teacher how he could repay him, the teacher told him to help 10 other people and they’d be even. Fortunately, Fernando didn’t stop at just 10.
Although Fernando has since moved on to lead the performing arts department at another magnet school, the important work of saving kids through music continues at Washington Prep. Under the guidance of like-minded Magnet Director Stan Jackson, the ideals of hard work, excellence and helping others continue to be the cornerstone of the students’ educations.
For instance, I just recently learned from Stan that the Washington Prep Jazz Ensemble has been invited to perform at this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival, hosted by Bill Cosby. (That’s quite an honor!) And on Saturday mornings, the digital piano lab still buzzes with activity as students give music lessons to the children of South Central LA.
— Tom Love