Presidential Citizens Medal 2011 – Margaret Martin


Dr. Margaret Martin:
I’m the founder of an
organization called Harmony Project, and some years ago,
I was at a farmers market in Hollywood, and there was a posse
of hardcore LA — Los Angeles gang members that
came walking through, and they stopped to listen to
a tiny kid playing Brahms on a tiny violin. After — after five
or six minutes, I watched those gang members
pull out their own money and lay it gently in the
little kid’s case. I was at UCLA at the time
earning a doctorate in public health, focus on what it takes
to make a healthy community, and those gang members taught me
that they would rather be doing what that tiny kid was doing
than what they were doing. They never had the chance. In 2001, I founded Harmony
Project with 36 kids and one $9,000 check from the
Rotary Club of Hollywood, and today we’ve got 1,400
kids, 13 youth orchestras, hundreds of kids
on a waiting list. And our students have performed
at the Hollywood Bowl, on the Tonight Show with Jay
Leno and with artists like Stevie Wonder, Rickey
Minor and Dance Aimes. I’ve lived in poverty, I was
homeless for a year in Los Angeles before I went back to
school and eventually earned a doctorate in public health, so I
know I come — I know what it’s like not to have things, and the
worst part is not to be able to keep your kids safe. I can’t give people
jobs — well, I can give musicians
jobs nowadays, but I can help families
keep their kids safe, in school and out of trouble. The last — we require at
Harmony Projects to just remain enrolled in school. We operate in school districts
where the dropout rates are 60 to 75%. All of our kids remain
enrolled in school, and the last four years, 100% of
our high school graduates have completed high school
in four years, on time, and have gone to college, most
of them the first in the family to go to college. This — this medal really
changes the profile of our organization, because we’ve now
received two Presidential Awards in two years. The Coming Up Taller Award, the
nation’s highest honor for an arts-based youth program, and
now the Presidential Citizens Medal for me as founder. And in truth, I’m being honored
for work that’s now being done by hundreds of people. I’m very well aware of that, but
I’m still delighted to accept it on behalf of us all.

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