How AMPED Louisville is connecting the community through music
By Miranda McDonald
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
“What I want people to know is that AMPED is more than just a music program,” Executive Director of AMPED, Dave Christopher, states as we sit outside the Greenwood Avenue campus of the Academy of Music Production Education and Development. We are sitting in a circle — six feet apart — with two young musicians named JoVahn Allen and Jaelyn Stewart. The tone of excitement and determination I hear in his voice is quite tangible. “Music is a tool we can use to connect a community, and that connection is our goal,” said Christopher.
When Christopher moved to Louisville in 2000, he was focused on his technology company and being a single father to his son. “I remember having this moment of panic one night. My son was watching a television show and I was wondering how I was going to connect with him at that time. I asked him what he wanted to do with his life,” Christopher recalls. “The next morning, he told me he wanted to be a record producer or own a recording studio. So, I went out and bought two thick books on how to do both and read them from cover to cover.”
It was at that very moment that Christopher decided to use music as a tool for bonding with his son. This is also when the first seed was planted for the development and creation of AMPED. Now, the organization has grown into a free music program that allows children to explore their creativity through songwriting, musical composition, sound recording and engineering.
“It wasn’t until I came to AMPED that I realized how much of a music city Louisville is,” states Allen when I ask him about his first experience with the academy. He learned how to produce music through the program when he was in seventh grade. “I initially didn’t want to come to AMPED, because I didn’t really like after-school programs. After only one week, I was hooked,” he goes on to explain. “Now, AMPED has become more like a family. I’ve learned so much about the music industry and about life through them.”
AMPED also recently launched its Family Learning and Technology Program as another way to give back to families in the community. This program provides parents with necessary work skills through online learning, mentoring and technology training.
“We wanted to work with more than just the kids. We also wanted to work with the families,” Christopher explains. “We started to notice there were kids with parents that needed help getting jobs that paid real living wages. Since my background is in technology, I know just how beneficial it is to have skills in this area.”
Christopher also explains that he is currently expanding this technology program by providing important technology-based work experience for participants once they complete training. He will accomplish this with a business he just launched that will contract out IT support for other local organizations. He acknowledges that providing skills and training only goes so far.
“These parents need more than training. They need work experience that will help them secure better paying jobs later on,” he explains. “This is why we are creating these initial jobs for them to gain that.”
However, AMPED is about much more than the technical programs it offers. While spending time with Allen and Stewart on campus, I realize the confidence and genuine relationships that are being built through these programs are the real backbone of this establishment. As the two musicians give me a tour of the facility, Christopher excuses himself to set up for the AMPED Up for the Weekend live performance. It is a weekly performance that is currently only being streamed every Thursday on social media due to COVID-19. This weekly offering has become a way for the community to stay connected during a time of uncertainty and social distancing.
“This place gave me self-esteem,” Stewart explains. “At first, I didn’t like who I was. Now, when I write music, I am talking to myself and also talking to other people through my lyrics. I want to tell them they are beautiful being who they are, as in I am beautiful being who I am.” As I listen to Stewart speak, I am amazed by the genuine confidence the 17-year-old possesses. This self-assurance is even more apparent when Stewart picks up a guitar and starts playing while we sit in AMPED’s main recording studio. I soon learn it is one of several instruments the young musician has mastered since being with the academy.
As the interview progresses, Allen and Stewart show me the two other recording studios on the premise. Allen tells me he just released a new album called, “Journey to My Mind.” I also find out that Stewart’s father is a music producer. They both then explained the no cursing policy Christopher established for any music that is being recorded on campus. By the end of the interview, I am amazed by the tenacity and true talent that both of these teenagers possess.
A week later, I email Christopher to thank him for taking the time to speak with me and ask him if there is anything else he wants to add to our conversation. He quickly and candidly replies, “Please [tell others] to support our program not because you feel sorry for our youth and our families, but instead because you sincerely care about creating a fair and just society that benefits ALL of society and not just some of it. AMPED exists to provide resources to individuals who are already capable, but lack those resources that are needed to realize their own destiny.”
4425 Greenwood Ave.
Louisville, KY 40211