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.
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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.