Chances are if you’ve even heard of Ferguson, Missouri, which is just outside of St. Louis, it is because of recent high-profile protests and violence there in response to a local grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed African American man in a controversial episode in early August 2014. The ripples of that decision were felt across the United States, as demonstrations sprang up in dozens of cities and towns.
Ferguson is nearly two-thirds African American and mostly poor-to-middle class. The public schools there have been in decline for some time. But in mid-December, the city and its schools got some welcome good news when the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society received a generous grant of $20,000 from the Augustine Foundation to launch the Ferguson Guitar Initiative in a pair of local schools. In recent years, the foundation has donated more than 250 guitars to a dozen St. Louis-area schools, but these are the first to be earmarked specifically for Ferguson. Phase one of the program will begin in January 2015, when a selection of fifth and sixth grade students will begin twice-weekly lessons with local teachers, aided by Austin Classical Guitar’s online curriculum. The program has funding for a year, with more being sought to continue it indefinitely. Indeed, according to Society president Willliam Ash, “We have ten supporters who have each pledged $1,000–creating a collective $10,000 matching fund–to match new donations to our organization dollar-for-dollar up until June 30, 2015. Details are on our website.”
Margaret Gilleo, a board member of the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, commented in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Will this solve the problems of racism and poverty in our community? No, but it will provide new beauty, interest and skills in the lives of those children who decide to take advantage of it. Music is a life-enhancing activity.”
Who knows? Ferguson could well have a prodigy waiting for such an opportunity.