Monday, May 25, 2009

Welcome to the Projects! Youth Music at It's Best!

AWOL's Sound Design Program, the Projects is probably our most popular program of them all. It is the crux of all things AWOL and remains a coveted program to enroll into by dozens of Savannah youth. This is now our 3rd class and we are very excited about the release of the third album, "Dirty Water". The music is all written and produced by AWOL youth with the guidance of three awesome Artist Facilitators, Lloyd Harold, A.K.A "Kid Syc", Patrick Rodgers of Press Play Public Relations and our very own former youth participant turned teacher, Quentin Smith of CCB, A.K.A "QD".

We are always intrigued by the differences in each class. The first class was a broad mix of poets, rappers and R&B artist. For us, it was a perfect first album (dubbed The Outcome) because it was a great snapshot of what we hoped was to come. All kinds of talented kids, all in the studio, writing, creating, mixing and learning how to collaborate on a full scale media production that they could call their own. Some of the members of the first class have now entered the military and other have gone to college, I can only hope that some of the skills learned while they were with AWOL have successfully transferred into life skills. What might those skills be you ask?

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Project Management

These are just a few of the soft skills learned during the process of creating a successful album. Often time, I can see why one might think to themselves, "Awww, that's so nice, the kids are learning how to make music and staying out of trouble". But AWOL is so much more than that. The relationships created during AWOL programs are the foundations of lifelong friendships and learning how to build positive relationships. So as you listen to a few tracks from the old class, (and a few off my cousin Anthony David's old album...he's so hot, my family is full of artist, but i'll tell you all about that in another issue) please be mindful that these kids are doing more than creating music, they are drawing the blue print for a successful future.

Myspace Page for each class:

Projects 1
Projects 2
Projects 3 (under construction)


AWOL Lake Bash 2009 Projects 3 Album Release, "Dirty Water"
June 26th @ Lake Mayer, Savannah, GA

BBQ in full effect, with yours truly Polo on the grill! All proceeds go to support Savannah Youth!

About the Projects

Positive Reeducation of Juveniles Everywhere Concerning the Streets

Taught through a combination of classroom style workshops and hands-on training in AWOL’s production lab and recording studio, the Sound Design program, titled The P.R.O.J.E.C.T.S, gives students an opportunity to develop their musical talents while gaining first hand experience in multiple aspects of the music industry, including talent (songwriting / producing / recording) and business (public relations / representation / marketing).

The 6-8 month program (depending on youth progress)that is designed to expand the musical literacy and personal awareness of students using lessons about music history, music theory and creative writing that feeds into a collaborative environment where students work together to write, produce, record and market an album comprised of the best student work from the class. Local artists, writers and producers, who are active in their respective fields regionally and nationally, teach small classes of students focused on learning practical lessons such as instrument identification and music analysis, as well as understanding how to use industry-standard software, including ProTools (recording), Reason (production) and Fruity Loops (production). In addition to learning the basics of each program, students learn about composition, rhythm and theory in a hands-on environment that encourages them to express themselves through their music, while working with songwriters and lyricists to craft the best possible finished product.

Disclaimer: The Myspace links of AWOL employees, supporters and friends are their personal works of art. Links to Myspace URL's are in no way an endorsement of said artist or the content of the artist work. Nor is said content representative of AWOL youth program curriculum.

Find more music like this on AWOL All Walks of Life Inc.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Be the Change

It's amazing to look back at AWOL's very humble beginnings and imagine what lies ahead. Each year has been a journey, with it's own set of rumbles and tumbles. Tonight we had a board meeting, which had a few old and new members. As I looked across the room I was reminded of the #1 rule when starting a non-profit. You must have a supportive group of advisers and board members who are willing to do two simple things. Now when I tell you what these two things are, my commentary at the end may seem a little harsh, but trust me it's just the plain ole truth. Your Board of Directors mandate is simply these two things.

  • GIVE (Give time, money or resources)
  • GET (Somebody else to give time, money or resources)

or they can chose the last option, which is to..

  • GET OFF!
Yeahhhhhh, I said it! Get off!

If you say you support an organization or a cause, don't just talk about it, be about it. In this day in time, and especially given the current economic downturn, small and large social service agencies often suffer first as governments cut back and competitive grant's become scarce. If it's one thing I'm clear about, it's the simple fact that AWOL would not be where we are today without the dozens of supporters that offered up everything from advice, volunteer time, snacks for the kids, donated equipment and of course my personal favorite, cold hard cash. lol. Cash never goes out of style.

So perhaps today is the day. Which group do you support? (I hope its AWOL, smile)
Whichever cause or organization you support, call them up, ask them what they need most and try to help out. Don't have time to call? That's cool, send them a donation in the mail or online. Social service organizations like AWOL are an important thread in the social fabric of our community. Without them, many would go with critical needs unmet.

Now if this blog has moved you to ACTION, then here is AWOL's address to send that donation. lol

AWOL, Inc.
P.O. Box 15846
Savannah, GA 31416

or visit our website at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Green Jobs for Smart Kids!

What the heck is a "green job" anyway and why should we care! And no, if your from Savannah, it's not a job St. Patrick's Day job. lol.

Well, I figured I would do a little Internet digging and here is just a few definitions that I could find, which seemed to narrow the scope just a bit, which I might add is hard to do given the relative ambiguity of many of the terms used in this field like "all natural" or "non toxic" which can sometime means different things depending on the circumstances. Nonetheless, here we go..

Time Magezine-According to Phil Angelides a venture capitalist and the 2006 Democratic candidate for governor of California (he lost to the political world's best-known Austrian-American), Angelides is the chair of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor and environmental groups championing green employment. Here's how he defines a green job: "It has to pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility. And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment." {I like this one!}

United Nations Environment Program-We define green jobs as work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high-efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution.

No matter what the definition is that you prefer, AWOL's Information Technology program for at-risk youth is certainly a "green job". AWOL youth are enrolled in what we have dubbed as the "Goon Squad". Youth learn all about how to refurbish and recycle old PC's that would otherwise be headed for a landfill, thus emitting harmful toxins into our environment. This particular AWOL program was recently featured in the May 2009 edition of Black Enterprise Magazine! (turn to page 82). What's even more important is that not only do they learn a valuable job skill, that gives them plenty of opportunity for career advancement, they get to help out the community by giving the newly refurbished PC's to needy families that have no access to home computing.

What's more is that, AWOL's Good Squad program utilizes only open source (free) software platforms (we like Ubuntu) on refurbished PC's making the PC sustainable for poor families who may not have the cash flow for upgrades to other proprietary software (sorry Bill, no Window here). Ubuntu is an African concept of 'humanity towards others'. It is 'the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity'.

So how did we end up with an IT program for youth in edtion to our arts programs? Well, in our orginal master grant we had decided from the out set that while arts was a great way to engage young people, not all of them would be "super talented"so to speak. And the bottom line is that not everbody is going to be the next Angela Bassett or Common, so we wanted to make sure that our youth development program came equipped with a cutting edge job training component that fit with the rapidly changing world of technology around us. If it's one thinng we have always been clear about, it's been the need to expose kids to as much technology as possible. Gone are the day's of simply teaching them how to drive a forklift. In order to compete in this world, kids need to be able to develop a software program that tells the forklift what box to pick up!

So this is how we ended up training kids for those "green jobs" that everyone keeps talking about. So if you own a company or work for a one, go down to the IT department and ask them just what happens to all those old PC's after they are done using them. Tell them you know of a great program that could sure use a couple 100 PC's for kids to train on and give back to the community. What a great way to help "bridge the digital divide"

Want to see the Goon Squad in action? Check out this video of our Big PC Giveaway that was supported by AWOL's corporate sponsor, Cricket Wireless. Did I mention that Cricket, a national corporation stepped up to the plate and gave away 25 free Cricket modems with 6 months of free service for needy families? Now that's what I call corporate resposibility at it's best!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Just "Be"

Leading a mid-level non-profit can be a daunting task sometimes. Between getting payroll done, planning fundraisers, doing reports and writing grants, its hard to find time to just "be". It's not often that I find the time to just

  • Be with my kids
  • Be with my husband
  • Be with my Mom and Dad
  • Be with my friends
  • Be by myself

This blog is in no way a rant about how exhausted I am, or how much I dislike my job. It's quite the contrary, it's a blog to remind us all to find the time to just "be". My New Year's resolution came from one of favorite aunts, Inez. She told me at the beginning of the year that "2009 Was All Mine". I loved it, and I'm sticking to it. 5 years into the non-profit sector, and I'm finally finding the time to just "be". Sure I got grant deadlines and reports to write, but trust me, they'll be there when I get back from "being wherever I be at" that's a fact!

Today I spent most of the morning doing SUAF paperwork, taking care of bill's, answering the 1000 emails I get per day and then at about 12ish, I decided it was time to "be". I hope you find sometime to do the same. It helps to renew your spirit and gives you the strength to march forward. Everyday we meet more and more youth that need help, parents crying out for support and social workers hoping that "this is the final referral for this kid, the one that works". They are the reason that I find the time to "be". If I don't, then how could we (me and Tony and the AWOL crew) ever help them.

And of course, these two are the most important reason of all to just "be". If you don't have them, find the right one and get some! (kids) They are great to "be" with. lol

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Keeping my Babies Safe

If someone would have told me 6 years ago that I would have worked with over 300 youth through AWOL's arts and technology program, I probably would have laughed at them. But of all the young people I've worked with, the one that sticks out in particular, (probably because he's still around bugging me) is Quentin.

Quentin was a member of my very first grant funded arts program for youth, Hold Up a HIV/AIDS prevention Hip Hop Theater production that focused on helping teens protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. This was back in the day when I worked at Union Mission, Inc., (another awesome Savannah non-profit). He was just 13 at the time, and I can even remember his stepfather bringing him to the auditions and informing me that he was his manager, which I got a real laugh out of since this was simply a community prevention program. I thought to myself, who does this guy think I am?, A&R for Universal Records or something!? lol.

But nonetheless, I could appreciate the parental involvement aspect. As the program progressed, I was most impressed with Quentin's artistic ability. Him and his buddy Patrick took the information that I had given them and quite easily made it into a hip and cool song about HIV prevention. I must admit, I was quite impressed.

Then one afternoon after a show, I set about my daily task of dropping the kids off at home and overheard Quentin and Patrick's conversation about their frustration with the music biz. Yes, you hear me right people, "frustration".

At the time, both of them could not have been more than 14 or 15 and already they were more concerned with their music career than anything else. But this conversation stood out a great deal, because both of them sited that "other homeboys" that they knew who were also rappers, were apparently already doing well, signing contracts, doing shows, and recording in the local studios....studios that I knew were no place for a young person. Most of Savannah's underground music scene at the time, was inundated with drugs and violence.

I spoke to the boys of course, and told them to take the high road, ignore the fact that everyone seem to be passing them by...humph..what a hard pill for them to swallow and for me to have to give. Kids of course want instant gratification. It's a phase in life that some of else never grow out of, but as adolescents it's an even more powerful feeling.

At that moment, my conscious and subconscious mind made a clear cut decision. I WAS GOING TO DO EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO PROVIDE SAVANNAH YOUTH WITH ACCESS TO A FREE MUSIC RECORDING STUDIO. No drugs, no violence, no contracts to sign, just a place with top notch equipment to call their own.

6 years later, that dream is now a reality. So just in case your wondering....what happen to Quentin and Patrick?

Here he is right here, doing just fine. A college student at Savannah State University, and an Artist Facilitator for AWOL teaching other kids how to make hot beats! Most days of the week he can still be found in the AWOL lab, busy making a new beat or laying down a new track or two. Patrick is also employed by AWOL with our Goon Squad Information Technology program. You can see him in our recent feature article in Black Enterprise Mag. My heart and mind are at peace knowing that AWOL has the power to keep young people safe and off the streets and most of all out of "bad situations".

Welcome to the AWOL Blog

Well, this blog spot is long over due for AWOL. So much has gone into building Savannah's first and only federally recognized Poetry and Hip-Hop based youth development organization over the past 5 years. Its now time to let everybody know the weekly happenings at AWOL, and perhaps even solicit some feedback from all of our fans out there, or the AWOL Groupies (this is of course a fond So let's get this thing under way with a brief intro and history.

History-Okay. AWOL was founded in 1997 by this guy. Tony "Polo" Jordan on the campus of Savannah State University. The group was at first just a group of artist, MCees, Breakers, Poets, who all shared a love for hip-hop culture. The group became organized after being told they were illegally using University facilities for informal gatherings without proper documentation. The needed a requisition in order to gather at the facilities, which was precluded by the need to be a registered campus organization. So, thus was the creation of AWOL All Walks of Life, Inc.

So what happens next? Well, as members grew and went on to their prospective careers after graduation , AWOL moved off campus and into the community. AWOL also spawn the development of two new spoken word organizations, Spitfire Poetry Group and WORD (Way of Real Discovery). All three organizations have become staples of the Savannah spoken word and hip-hop scene, with each fulfilling different roles. Spitfire Poetry Group which host local adult and youth events and the annual Spoken Word Festival has a huge following of some of Savannah's hottest poets and hip-hop artist. WORD on the other hand remains the primary spoken word organization for students at Savannah State as a campus based organization.

AWOL leaders chose a different approach, and turned the organization into a federally recognized non-profit in 2004. AWOL's mission is to Promote and Provide self-awareness through the use of Poetry, Hip-Hop and Life. This mission is met by providing at risk youth with arts and technology programs during the hours most relevant to them, after school and at night. AWOL programs encourage respect, creativity, education and most of all non-violence.

Alright folks, so that was the beginning. Check back and I'll fill you in on what's happening now with AWOL.