The Founder of 7 Mile Music is our Person of the Week

Posted at 10:24 PM, Mar 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-01 10:21:37-04

When Detroit children are caught in the middle of gunfire and poverty there are very few things that may help brighten their world.

However, a young man who struggled in his own early upbringing is brightening the lives of kids in the Brightmoor community with the sound of music.

This is a pretty remarkable story about a young man who, against all odds, is bringing back the sweet sounds of music to children in one of Detroit's poorest areas. He's a graduate of the University of Michigan's School of Music who had his own struggles as a youngster growing up.

But now he's using his gift to inspire others.

If you peak inside his small house in Detroit's Brightmoor community, you'll hear an amazing sound.

No rap music, no R&B. Instead, the beautiful sounds of classical piano, played by a young man who is using music as an instrument of change for children in the city.

Sam Saunders is a graduate of the University of Michigan's School of Music. As a college freshman he founded a non-profit program called 7 Mile Music - the reason simple.

Sam says, "I heard Detroit was cutting all music from the public schools. That was really just unacceptable."

Sam then decided he would come to the Motor City to see where he could do the most good.

Sam says, "I had never been to Detroit, I looked on a map and started driving around and drove down 7 Mile."

He went to community centers introducing himself and pitching an idea to have university teachers give free music lessons to Detroit kids. Then two years ago he decided to do an 8 week, 4 hour a day music summer camp intensive at a community center.

At the time, he was still living in Ann Arbor.

Sam says, "I took a leap and moved to Brightmoor to continue the work we're doing here. I've been in Brightmoor ever since."

Sam grew up in a poor community in Virginia, where he nearly lost his life as a child when he was run over by a car. His head was split open.

Sam says, "I had, from a very young age, a traumatic brain injury, I had a fractured skull."

In school Sam says he got in a lot of trouble and had trouble making friends. Until he was introduced to music.

Sam says, "Finding piano and getting on a very consistent track with that went to school for it it changed my life."

And now Sam is the one changing lives and his perspective has changed too.

Sam says, 'I've been received so kindly by everyone. Moving into such a dangerous place, all bets are off, no idea a lot of people said I was going to get shot."

Not only has he remained safe, he is giving children with not much to look forward to a reason to have discipline, a potential career - even a shot at a music scholarship.

Sam says, "Give a child an instrument and now, instead of sitting at home being immersed in this with nothing to do, every day they can put all the angst and anger toward something positive."

Sam has more than 100 teacher volunteers in his program. The instruments have been purchased with grant and foundation money, and the kids who take lessons are allowed to rent their instruments and some are even allowed to keep them.

Sam says, "That's the level where music goes from being a powerful tool to something that's life changing."

Right now, Sam has more music teachers than kids to teach. He's in the process of approaching three schools to begin after school music programs for the fall.

He's hoping his 7 Mile Music program can expand into Flint, Saginaw and across the nation.

That's why we choose Sam Saunders as our Person of the Week.