The Foundry School was a tough-love school located in the inner city of San Jose, California. It is named after a type of steel plant that reclaims discarded scrap metal by melting it down, pouring the molten metal into new forms, and then tempering and reshaping it into usable materials.
This School was a last chance for kids from the inner city who have been neglected or abused, who are beyond-control youth, who were delinquent, or law violators or just wild feral children like me. They have been kicked out of junior high, high school, or continuation school, one too many times, because of drugs, fighting, gang-related activities, or just bad behavior. The kids had to voluntarily make it through the Foundry program to get back into the school system. These kids had a lot of incentive to make it because, for most of them, school is a lot safer environment for them than the streets or their home situations. These kids have gone beyond being at-risk children, to experiencing the dangers of the world-at-large. These are kids who have been “risked.”
The school focused as much on life values as academics. A significant player and director of the Foundry is John Malloy, as both a community counselor and an intervention specialist. John and his staff’s hearts needed to be as big as their mission, and as strong as steel, to give these out-of-shaped kids what they needed while helping them re-shape themselves into happy, healthy, and productive souls. I call it “tough love!”
As part of my tithing to the Church of Rhythm, I visited the Foundry regularly. I did my program when they were integrating the new students into the veteran population. The first two weeks were the toughest for the new kids, as they find out that they were responsible for making it through the Foundry program with a proper attitude and by participating fully.
John Malloy used my rhythm circle as a metaphor to show how everyone is equally responsible for the success of the group. I would tell them, “You are the village, and no one is any more or less important than anyone else in accomplishing the village’s goals.”
In a rhythmically-based event, it was easy to see who was putting their spirit into the exercises and who was not. The veteran students would “call out” the new kids who were holding back or exhibiting a negative attitude. They would let them know that they disliked their disruptiveness, lack of participation, etc.
As an English assignment, after each program, John had the students write to me about their experience. When I got the manilla envelope full of writing assignments in the mail from the Foundry, I would sit down at the kitchen table with my wife Diana and we read them together.
Our first session of what we called, “the Foundry envelope reading experience” astounded us. Usually, when I do a drum circle, I will get a few quick feedback and thank yous. And if I am lucky, I might get a story of someone’s personal experience of the event and how it might have affected their mood, attitude or their life.
Each envelope of letters that arrived after a Foundry drum circle was full of powerful testimonies and stories. These letters were full of heartache, family or personal pain, life’s struggle, courage, truth, and redemption. Reading these amazing testimonials from the Foundry kids continually reinforced the reasons that I facilitate drum circle as a personal mission.
The first batch of letters from the Foundry kids affected us greatly, to the point that I had to go get a box of tissues for us to soak up our tears of sympathy, empathy, and inspiration. Every time we would receive a package of the Foundry kids letters, I would first get the box of tissues before Diana, and I would sit down at the kitchen table and open up the envelope.
Here are some of their comments:
“Drumming together benefited our group so much, because it was our first day and we needed that lesson about doing something as a community.”
“When I first came here, I was very uneasy about this group and felt uncomfortable. After you were done with us, I did not feel that anymore. I felt closer to everyone as we made something together.”
“I sometimes have anger inside of me, so when I was able to play your drums, it released me of my unnecessary moods.”
“The drumming changed me by forcing me to work as a part of a group to accomplish something.”
“No matter how much you want to go at your own pace, you must stay in the group rhythm to be successful. I noticed that my simple part was very important to support the group beat.”
“I was at peace with my mind, body, and soul. Well, at least I got to be at peace for one day.”
“When you first came, I thought you were a crazy old man. I thought about how you brought us together without bullshitting us in any way. I respect that.”
“I didn’t know till now that you could open up somebody’s heart with the drum.”
At the end of one of these Foundry programs, one young man came up to me and said “I knew that I would bash in somebody’s head today. I did not know who or why. Even though I didn’t want to get kicked out of the Foundry, I just knew it would happen, so I bashed in your drum head instead. Here it is and thanks.” With that statement, he handed my broken drum to me and walked away. My heart filled with joy as I realized that I had given someone an opportunity to break my drum head instead of someone else’s head.
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