Former Gang Rivals Connect Through Music

Former Gang Rivals Connect Through Music

Young Musicians Foundation’s Mike Stoller Music Heals Program Provides Music Instruction for Homeboy Industries  

Created through the vision of legendary songwriter Mike Stoller, the Young Musicians Foundation’s (YMF) Music Heals program is a unique, trauma-informed music immersion program created for participants in Homeboy’s Workforce Development and other programs. The program integrates instrumental, vocal, and music technology and production. Emphasis is placed on helping participants connect with their innate musical abilities through hands-on experience, exploration, and communal participation.  

Music Heals started with a chance meeting. YMF’s Executive Director Walter Zooi met Stoller while producing an episode of the organization’s podcast Connections. “When the interview finished, Mike, mentioned an upcoming meeting at Homeboy Industries regarding a music program he wanted to start,” Zooi related, “Intrigued, I mentioned that YMF would be thrilled to help in way. ‘No offense’ Mike said, ‘but I don’t think anyone would be interested in studying the bassoon.’”  

Mr. Stoller’s reaction was based on his experience with YMF’s Debut Orchestra and the organization’s history of elite-level training for aspiring orchestral musicians. In reality, YMF was well along in a significant change process. “We were in finishing stages of restructuring YMF’s program model to exclusively provide access to music education to those who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise,” said Zooi, “ When I told him about our new direction, Mike invited me to attend the meeting.”  

The Mike Stoller Music Heals program made its debut after months of planning, and was an immediate success, with the Homies and with Mr. Stoller, who attends every class his schedule allows. Classes begin with a drum circle where everyone checks in, sharing feelings, issues they are facing, or hopes for the future. Participants can then choose instruction in guitar, keyboards, drums, voice, songwriting, and music production with a faculty of highly accomplished professional musicians and educators.  

Music Heals percussion instructor Martin Flores remarked that “it amazes me every time to realize that folks who might have been shooting at each other before are now smiling, playing music together.”  

The Young Musicians Foundation’s (YMF) mission is to empower under-served, often marginalized students to find creativity, connection and joy through music. In addition to its Music Heals program, YMF serves over 4,500 students at 26 under-resourced schools and sites on a weekly basis throughout the school year. For more information on the Young Musicians Foundation and their programs visit