As I reflect on Father’s Day , I silently salute all the hard-working fathers I’ve known – and all those I’ll never meet – whose unshakeable commitment to their families and to their children makes all the difference in the world.
Here’s how one Harmony Project father taught me the meaning of commitment.
As Harmony Project enrollment grew within Los Angeles County, we needed larger and larger spaces where our students could give musical performances for their families and friends.
The Hall of Liberty is an almost perfect place for us. It’s a beautiful performance hall. It seats about 1200 people. And it’s available free of charge to community groups.
The down side is that the Hall of Liberty is located in the middle of the Forest Lawn cemetery and memorial park in Burbank, CA. That means it’s more than a mile from the nearest bus stop. And many (or most) Harmony Project families rely on public transportation. So when Harmony Project students perform at the Hall of Liberty, many of them (and their families) walk the last mile from the bus stop to the hall, and then back again, after the performance.
Some years ago, after an afternoon of Harmony Project performances at the Hall of Liberty, I found myself driving past many large families walking back to the bus stop with their children. I wished I could offer them all a ride. But my car was small and the families were large. There were grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins – and lots of small children. I marveled, as I often did, at the way families come together to support the progress of their children within Harmony Project.
Then, up ahead, I saw a boy walking beside his father, carrying a violin. I could definitely offer the two of them a ride. I drove up beside them and stopped.
The father was hesitant. But when I explained that I was the founder of Harmony Project and urged him to let me give them a ride, he relented.
“Just to the bus stop,” he said.
When I asked where they lived, I realized they had traveled nearly ten miles -- the last mile on foot -- to get to the recital. The trip to the hall had required them to take several different buses and had taken more than two hours. Their return trip would take them at least that long or longer. I could make the return trip with them in my car in twenty minutes – so I insisted on driving them home.
What I learned about that family during the drive that day gave me new appreciation for the impact of a father’s commitment. I also gained a whole new perspective on the magnitude of the impact that Harmony Project has on children and families from extremely low-income homes.
The boy, Diego (not his real name), was eleven years of age. He had been studying violin within Harmony Project for three years. Diego’s mother was at home with his infant brother and his seriously ill little sister, who was nearly three. For most of her life, the only way they had been able to feed Diego’s sister was through a tube that went straight to her stomach. Diego’s sister had already had several operations, and would soon have another. The boy’s father told me that the doctors at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles still didn’t know what was wrong with his daughter. They kept hoping they would find out.
My head spun.
This family had a newborn at home, the challenges of a seriously ill toddler and an extremely low-income household. I figured that Diego might have become invisible to his parents (and to himself) – if it wasn’t for Harmony Project. But Diego had been learning violin within Harmony Project since his little sister was born. Within Harmony Project, Diego had an identity of his own. He was learning to express himself through his violin. He was constantly learning new skills. And he was part of a group of Harmony Project students with which he practiced and regularly performed.
Despite everything else he had on his mind that day, Diego’s father had made Diego and his Harmony Project performance a priority. He had traveled with his son for two hours, by bus and by foot, to bring him to the recital hall. If I hadn’t offered them a ride back home, their round-trip to the hall and back would have taken at least four hours.
I thought of all those large families that were making a similar hours-long trip that day - those grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins and small children. I realized once again how much Harmony Project mattered to our students and their families.
I also appreciated how much the commitment and support of a student’s family matters – such as the commitment of Diego’s dad.
Harmony Project students learn to commit to the process of their own learning by watching their own parents – and Harmony Project teachers, staff and peer mentors – commit to supporting their progress over multiple years.
Margaret Martin, MPH, DrPH
Dr. Martin is the Founder of Harmony Project, a national music-based mentoring program that has won multiple major awards. She is also a Director of Harmony Project National Division, which helps cities and school districts launch successful Harmony Project programs in low-income communities throughout the U.S. Dr. Martin is the mother of three adult children.