The City of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance is offering mini grants for programs designed to fight youth violence, and organizations like Don’t Miss a Beat are benefiting from those dollars.
Don’t Miss a Beat (DMAB) is a music, arts and academic enrichment program that serves underprivileged youth in the Brooklyn, Riverside and Woodstock communities. The nonprofit was founded by jazz musician and Jacksonville native Ulysses Owens, Jr., and his family in 2008.
After graduating from Juilliard in 2006, Owens traveled the world as a jazz drummer, but when he read about the River City’s high dropout rate and other youth related problems, he decided to act.
“In other cultures, I saw so many arts programs for kids,” he said. “I thought we really needed something like this back home.”
When DMAB got started 10 years ago, the program didn’t really have a home. “We were just basically kind of taking our show on the road,” said Director of Operations and cofounder Felicia Bass. “So we were in the Hollybrook area of Jacksonville, which is a very high crime area. And we had our first summer camp there for eight weeks. And when we had our summer camp there, we saw all the drug sales went down, there was no violence going on for those eight weeks.”
“The kids were being helped out by their community,” said Bass. “The parents were coming in and getting involved. So we saw that change instantly, in the eight weeks that we were there at that facility in Hollybrook.”
And it wasn’t long before the city took notice.
In 2010 City Councilman Warren Jones helped DMAB get selected by the city and JaxParks to be “in residence” at the J.S. Johnson Community Center’s Youth Room at 1112 Jackson St. in Brooklyn. The organization now has a second location in the Community Art Center at Edith B. Ford Center at 2839 West Beaver St. in Jacksonville’s Woodstock neighborhood.
Since its founding in 2008, DMAB has served more than 20,000 youth and young adults, ages 2-18, according to DMAB.
“We touch about 1,200 to 1,500 kids a year,” said Bass. “So the impact is really great.”
According to the organization’s 2016 - 2017 annual report, 90 percent of the children served over the past year were African-American and 87 percent were living at 100 percent below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
In order to assess its own impact, DMAB had Jacksonville University conduct a survey, tracking the progress of 20 children who consistently participated in DMAB programs. The survey found that none of those participants were involved in any “criminal, deviant or at-risk behavior” after they had spent time in the program. Ninety-five percent of parents reported improved parent/child relationships and increased positive peer involvement, 80 percent showed improved behavior at school, 70 percent were given less than three behavior referrals during the previous school year and 85 percent showed academic improvement in the areas of math and literacy.
All the instruments the children are using belong to DMAB. The string instruments were all donated by Cynthia Graham when the Academy of the Arts program got started. DMAB’s string program, the Graham String Ensemble, is named in her honor. DMAB also has a partnership with Buffet Crampon, which donated brass and woodwind instruments to the organization. The Duval County School System fills in the gaps by providing other needed instruments.
JTA's spokeswoman, Leigh Ann Rassler, said JTA has donated a bus to DMAB. DMAB’s bus runs Monday through Friday and picks children up from several locations, including libraries and schools. On top of that, several buses drop children off at DMAB locations from the La Villa School of the Arts and the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
“Right now we’re going over basic music theory, pentatonic scales, improvising with pentatonic scales… things of that nature,” said Howe.
“I really dig it,” he said. “I mean, I needed a job and I try to do anything that is involved with music and I think this program is really important for the community around it.”
The mentors get a stipend every semester based on the number of hours they work. “It’s pretty much like a job where we get paid through UNF,” said Howe.
Bass said the organization has a lot of exciting things on the horizon.
“We have a new program that we just got funded through the city for crime prevention and it’s called Our Safety Net,” said Bass. The funding for that program is coming from the Kids Hope Alliance’s STOP the Violence Neighborhood Intervention and Prevention Mini Grants Program.
“That program is designed to help students figure out who their safety nets are, but also to steer [them] away from crime and to figure out how to be more productive in the community,” Bass said. “That’s going actually to kickoff this month. And so we’ll be running that program, and we’ll have different guest speakers coming in, talking to the kids, teachers coming in talking to the kids. We’re partnering with the police officers, the sheriff’s organization, to come in and speak with the kids about their safety nets and how to be safe when they’re outside of communities like this, when they’re outside of community centers like this, when they’re away from areas that keep them safe.”
DMAB also gets state funding from the Division of Cultural Affairs.
Additionally, DMAB has become a feeder program for the LaVilla School of the Arts. “We just had LaVilla’s principle and one of their teachers come out and do a parent conference for our parents, to tell them how the LaVilla process works, how the application process works, what schools they need to be in and what programs they need to be in if they want their kids to get to LaVilla, and this is one of the programs,” said Bass.
“They have these things in their head about what they want to be and who they think they are,” Bass said, speaking of the children DMAB serves. “The biggest thing is to just see them dream and evolve from five years old to graduating from high school. And to be honest, sometimes, given the environment that they’re coming from, you don’t think that they’ll make it.”
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that JTA does not have an ongoing partnership with DMAB, but rather made a one time donation of one bus. No other buses or funding to DMAB has been provided by JTA, according to JTA spokeswoman Leigh Ann Rassler.