This week, ten public schools hosted the I Lead Empowerment Tour run by the St. Louis non-profit organization Get Free. The group seeks to connect with young students and encourage them to make good decisions, including abstaining from bullying and drug use.
"Everything with mentoring comes down to trust," Get Free founder Marvin Blake says. "If the kids don't trust you, then they're not going to listen to what you say and they're not going to follow your lead. What we're doing is coming in as leaders and creating neutral territory and neutral ground to build a relationship through music and entertainment. In doing so we're able to impart a very important message to them while having a great time."
The I Lead Empowerment Tour went to schools including Gateway Middle, Central Middle, Beaumont, Normandy, Riverview, Vashon and Ritenor. They will be closing the tour with a motivational concert at Six Flags.
At each event, the St. Louis Christian hip-hop group Forever performed.
"The Get Free Project really encourages kids to get free of whatever keeps them from being the best they can be, and Forever exemplifies what we call 'freedom music' or 'get free music,'" Blake says. "They're positive, they lead the kids in a positive direction, the beats are amazing and they're an amazing group. They're exactly what the Get Free feeling is supposed to feel like. You're supposed be empowered to have a good time but to leave ready to be an agent of change. They embody what the Get Free movement is."
Forever, made up of producer Steve-T and songwriter Milley-Boy, also performed on the I Lead Empowerment Tour last year and were asked back due to positive student reaction. Steve-T used to be a producer for a group signed to Atlantic Records, whose music mainly promoted violence and fighting. Steve-T said he was happy to be able to start making music that sounded similar but had a more positive message.
"We were kids, too, and we didn't have programs like this when we were growing up," Milley-Boy says. "When we got approached to perform, we were honored. There's not too many groups that focus on the youth of today or focus on education in their music, so we felt that it was a great calling for us to make a difference."
The I Lead Empowerment Tour is currently in its fourth year. This year Blake said they have been met with a much bigger audience response and stronger support from sponsors. Blake said that in its four-year run, the I Lead Empowerment Tour has seen great success, like improved attendance rates and a decrease in behavioral issues at the schools the tour has visited.
"It's hard to push a message like this in these times because everything is commercial and everything is sex-centered, it's smoke-centered, it's drink-centered," Blake says. "We're trying to introduce something different into the atmosphere and let kids know that there's an alternative."
Demytryk Jackson, a sophomore at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, says he enjoyed the performance and that Forever's music could compete with the music on the radio, except it is not disrespectful at all.
"What we hope people get out of the music is the power to stand up and be themselves," Steve-T says, "because a lot of people don't really know who they are or have the confidence to stand out and be something different. You can still be cool and be who you are, and not give in to peer pressure or negativity, bullying, violence or drugs. You can stand up and be something different and have the confidence along with it."