How one Denver non-profit is using the power of music to uplift the city’s most vulnerable youth
In 2008, a trio of local Denver musicians had a big idea: what if they could use music as a tool to empower Denver’s at-risk youth? What if they could harness the power and passion of local artists to help underserved kids learn, grow, and flourish within the creative community?
Their love for their home city led the three friends, Andy “Rok” Guerrero, Jamie “Jonny 5” Laurie and Stephen “Brer Rabbit” Brackett, founding members of the band Flobots, to plant the seeds for what would eventually become a “nationally recognized arts education and youth development movement”: Youth on Record (YOR).
Fast forward 11 years. Guerrero, Laurie, and Brackett’s collective dream has blossomed into an incredible organization that has left an indelible mark on Denver.
For over a decade, YOR has been teaching and supporting the city’s disadvantaged youth both inside and outside of the classroom, offering programs that “create positive educational and job training opportunities.”
Classes are music and poetry based, with students learning a variety of creative skills, from the fundamentals of music and songwriting to advanced audio production. Many YOR students attend Denver Public Schools (DPS) pathways schools, which serve “at-risk youth challenged by low attendance and graduation rates.”
So far, YOR has partnered with 20 such schools, as well as the Denver Public Library. Their programs take a three-pronged approach: merging in-school courses, out-of-school-time classes, and job skills training at YOR’s fully-equipped recording studio. In addition, YOR also offers a nine-month fellowship program focused on helping develop artistic, personal, and professional plans for students up to age 24.
While music is their method, YOR is far more than a music program. As YOR’s Executive Director, Jami Duffy, explains, it is “a trauma-informed, culturally relevant approach to liberating teens across the city.”
All staff and artists are trained in a trauma-informed approach, which recognizes that the “bad behavior” students may exhibit is often a result of experienced trauma, and the goal is to empathize, build trust, and ultimately to keep them in the classroom.
YOR is also a place where students can find mental wellness support; where those who feel othered can become part of a culture of love and acceptance. As Duffy describes, YOR is a place everyone can belong, feel safe and be themselves.
At YOR, they are unconditionally loved.
In tandem with uplifting the city’s youth, YOR very proudly supports Denver’s artists on a larger scale. They have become a pinnacle in the local creative community, helping to encourage and feed into the city’s vibrant art scene. They are passionate about supporting artists at every level-so much so, in fact, that every one of YOR’s employees is a locally trained musician, many of whom started out as students themselves.
Denver, Duffy points out, is gentrifying; the first people to be disenfranchised and to suffer are often people of color. More specifically, artists of color. YOR is able to offer a sense of financial security to this vulnerable community, having thus far invested over $3 million in the local creative economy. As Duffy explains, artists are the city’s culture-bearers; to lose them is to lose entire swaths of Denver’s creative heart and soul.
Since its inception in 2008, YOR has been working tirelessly to help the city’s youth “discover how their voices and value can create a better world.” They are currently spreading the YOR message across the state, hoping to one day empower communities across the country with their commitment to helping students “make life choices that positively impact their future by teaching them…to succeed in today’s world and to become leaders of tomorrow.”