Inner Harbour's Therapeutic Drumming Program

Inner Harbour's Therapeutic Drumming Program

United States
Project Summary
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The Inner Harbour Therapeutic Drumming Program offers traditional West African drumming instruction and performance opportunities for adolescent males dealing with severe behavioral and emotional issues.

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Plot your innovation within the mosaic of solutions
Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Low self-value and stability leads to risky choices

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Unleash creativity that channels experiences of risk and vulnerability toward leadership

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic:

This field has not been completed

Describe your program or new idea in one sentence.

The Inner Harbour Therapeutic Drumming Program offers traditional West African drumming instruction and performance opportunities for adolescent males dealing with severe behavioral and emotional issues.

What makes your initiative uniquely positioned to create change in your community?

Inner Harbour offers programs for youth with severe behavioral impairments, which includes an emphasis on unique experiential therapies. Our Therapeutic Drumming Program offers male adolescents, including African-American youth, the opportunity to connect with West African culture. Our youth also provide a community service through performances at schools, youth detention centers, graduations, and other events around the country. After performances in the community, our drummers act as educators and teach others the traditional rhythms that they have learned. Drumming also provides a positive sense of community that most of our youth have not experienced as they play together in an ensemble, both leading and following, trusting and taking risks.

Describe how you organize and carry out your work?

We offer weekly classes in West African drumming to adolescent males who have been admitted into Inner Harbour’s EXCEL Leadership Academy, a wilderness-based alternative to incarceration for youth with juvenile delinquency issues. The drumming program is also available to other Inner Harbour groups, including our FOCUS program for male adolescents with a history of sexual perpetration and adolescent males in intense psychiatric residential care, including those with cognitive difficulties. Along with learning to play the hand drums, our program also teaches youth the proper repair and maintenance of the drums. Group members initially learn simple rhythms and songs and after basic parts are mastered, there are opportunities for individuals to both solo and improvise during songs.

What is your plan to scale and expand your innovation into your community and beyond?

The Inner Harbour Therapeutic Drumming Center is a regional training hub that offers workshops and consulting for community members and groups with interest in starting similar programs. The Drumming Program has also paired up with Inner Harbour’s unique Neurotherapy lab to assess the effect of drumming on the brain. Medical research has shown that music release endorphins that help relieve tension, mask pain, and open the mind to both learning and the creative process. Neurofeedback research allows us to acquire hard numbers and measurable outcomes on the long-term effects of drumming. This includes how drumming enhances alpha brain waves (producing an alert and calm state) and stimulates weaker parts of the brain. Results of this research can be published in journals and help expand drumming therapy to new audiences.

What other resources, institutional, or policy needs would be necessary to help sustain and scale up your idea?

Our program is sustained by Inner Harbour as a core treatment and therapy for the youth we serve, especially our EXCEL program. However, organizational budget cuts can affect supplies, salaries and upkeep monies. Our organization has tried to diversify sources of funding and we are dependent on outside resources to continue to offer this innovative therapy to our youth. By expanding our neurofeedback research, we would be able to scale up our program and receive greater recognition among different audiences.

Describe your impact in one sentence, commenting on both the individual and community levels.

The teaching of traditional West African drumming engages our youth in a creative and therapeutic activity that helps them work through emotional and social issues and become positive members of their community.

What impact has your work achieved to date?

The impact has led to greater knowledge of the Inner Harbour programs and also increased our organization’s image and presence in the mental health and juvenile justice community. Our youth have been involved in over 600 performances to date. For many adolescents who have rarely traveled outside their own neighborhood, our youth have also been able to experience travel to performances in Kennedy Center in New York and Union Square in Washington, DC. Our drumming groups have also performed and been introduced to former U.S. Presidents and members of Congress.

Number of individuals served

Our program serves nearly 100 adolescent males per week who have mental health/behavioral problems or criminal histories that include gang involvement, substance use, and/or violence. The Therapeutic Drumming Program has served thousands of youth since the program began in 1996.

Community impact

The impact that our program has on the community includes how this program helps each individual youth’s successful reintegration into the community. Our youth also perform at prisons, youth detention centers, schools, and various community events. These performances allow them to reconnect with the community by celebrating their gifts as they speak the truth with their drums.

Society at large

When our youth successfully integrate into society and become contributing members, it shows the significant societal impact of this program. More directly, our youth change the perspective of how our audiences view teenage boys with criminal backgrounds and mental or behavioral issues.

What measure do you use to gauge your impact and why?

Participation in our West African drumming program is an essential component to the successful transition of many of our adolescent males. The drums also act as educational tools for students with a history of failure in traditional educational settings. Building and playing the drum allows for geography, public speaking, mathematics and language arts learning. Drumming creates a sense of community, allows reconnection with history and heritage, promotes healing, and celebrates triumphs of the human spirit and rites of passage. Drumming also reduces tension, anxiety, stress and helps improve hand-eye coordination. Our drumming program teaches musical skills and stimulates brain activity in our students. Our drummers report that drumming reduces feelings of anger and aggression and increases their toleration to deal with frustration and their ability to focus. As individuals, our youth learn self-discipline, how to overcome fears, and how to strive toward goals greater than themselves. As a group, our students work together and support each other in a united endeavor. Youth are also measured on variables such as whether they are employed or enrolled in school, have stable housing, and have avoided incarceration or readmission into an inpatient setting once they return to the community.

How is your initiative currently being financed and how would you finance further expansion and/or replication?

Presently, our program is budgeted as part of Inner Harbour’s operating budget. This is offset through funding from individuals and foundations that support our mission. We continue to seek funding opportunities from various sources in order to expand our program. By offering regular training and information, we also allow other organizations to replicate our success.

Provide information on your current finances and organization:

The 2008 annual budget for this program is $65,157, which pays for staff salary, wages, training, travel, group outings, supplies, and other expenses. Revenue from 2007 was approximately $13,000 and includes individual donations, support from foundations, community drumming workshop proceeds, and some performance compensation. The program has one full-time staff who is assisted by a variety of members of the Inner Harbour community such as direct care counselors, teachers, and AmeriCorps team members.

Who are your potential partners and allies?

The Therapeutic Drumming Program’s partners and allies include Inner Harbour for Children and Families, our AmeriCorps team, VSA Arts of Georgia, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Department of Human Resources (DHR), Georgia Council of the Arts, along with various community groups.

Who are your potential investors?

We are constantly seeking funding from individuals, corporations, foundations, civic groups, churches and other religious organizations in order to make available the items that support our program. Funders who are interested in youth, mental health, juvenile justice, neurofeedback, experiential activities and music are potential investors in our program.

The Story
What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

Inner Harbour offers programs for children and adolescents with severe behavioral impairments while emphasizing unique therapies such as outdoor wilderness activities, animal-assisted therapy, art therapy and equine therapy. The Therapeutic Drumming Program began at Inner Harbour in 1996 as a new and innovative therapeutic treatment approach to work with youth, especially adolescent males. In addition to weekly drumming groups, the students perform and teach West African drumming in the community. Students also build and maintain the drums that they play. Inner Harbour drumming groups have performed publicly over 600 times since 1996, at educational and juvenile justice conferences, schools and other events. In 2002, one of Inner Harbour’s drumming groups performed at Lincoln Center in New York City as part of a fund raiser for families of victims of the attack on the World Trade Center. They also participated in the International VSA Arts Festival in 2004, as well as the 2006 and 2007 Start with the Arts Festivals in Washington, D.C.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers marketing material.

Tom Harris has been working in the field of experiential education for over 25 years as a therapist, experiential facilitator and program director. He received his Masters of Science degree in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University. During his first 18 years in practice, he used construction projects and wilderness therapy as powerful tools of change for the youth with whom he worked. Backpacking, caving, rappelling, and canoeing were adventure-based activities for the youth to learn strength and courage to address adversities. In 1990, while scouting out a cave for a trip for the adolescents with which he was working, Tom lost control of his rappel and fell 120 feet. This left him with an L-1 incomplete injury to his spinal cord and partial paralysis of his lower body, necessitating the use of a wheelchair.

Tom began studying indigenous practices of initiation and rites of passage and incorporated these teachings as part of his model of treatment with youth with severe behavioral problems and criminal histories. In 1996, Tom created an innovative therapeutic drumming program at Inner Harbour for Children and Families. Tom adapted the use of drums as they are used in West Africa, to help boys learn how to become men in their villages, to address the modern problems his youth brought with them to Inner Harbour. These timeless practices gave additional structure in the maturation of these youth and in helping find a new identity which would lead them towards positive lives of worth and contribution.

Tom has made over 1,200 drums with Inner Harbour youth and in private workshops all around the U.S. He has presented at over 60 professional conferences, and provides consultation to therapeutic programs and alternative schools nationwide on the therapeutic uses of drumming. Through the years, he has intensively studied both the music and culture of West Africa under the tutelage of renowned drummers around the world. He presently performs around Atlanta and northern Georgia with the eclectic drumming group known as Ten Blocks Away.