Matthew Kerr was a history teacher and a musician when a student’s mother asked him to come teach a music lesson at Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (PICC). Matt went – and went back again and again – and met amazing young people who had never been exposed to music, many of whom said they wished they had previously had access to music programs to express themselves. Matt realized how many talented kids there were who had just never had the opportunity to learn music, and Beyond the Bars was born. Matt reached out to a friend and amazing musician and teacher, Christopher Thornton, and they continued to grow the program.
Today, Beyond the Bars focuses on providing positive and safe spaces where youth who have been impacted by violence or the incarceration system can express themselves. They run music programs with a number of anti-violence and trauma informed programs throughout the city where students have an opportunity to learn the basics of songwriting and recording. If students express a passion for music, they have access to more lessons and programs, and have the opportunity to join the Teacher Training Program and become teachers for the next generation.