Interview with Dean of Students Gralan Early, Music Instructor Bradford Smith

| March 1, 2016
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley

By Eric Hackley

The following is an interview with Dean of Students Gralan Early and Music Instructor Bradford Smith at a local Fort Wayne school. These gentlemen are both education innovators and music activists.

HACKLEY: Mr. Early, tell me about your job. What do you oversee?

GRALAN EARLY: I am the dean of students. I handle all discipline and I also teach music production. I came to the school during its second year.  The school is based on high expectations and no excuses. So when we started, we didn’t have any sports at the school. My goal was to bring arts to the school, so I started a music program. Before I came here, I was in Fort Wayne Community Schools. I taught the same music productions and songwriting at a Fort Wayne community School.

I took this concept and brought it over to give students something different to counter not having sports. That was my intention when I came here to deal with discipline and helping that out in this urban community.  Also, our program gives students tools to work with and skills to learn at their present age that can potentially earn them money even right now.

HACKLEY: Mr. Smith, what attracted you into this picture? Did you know Mr. Early previously? And what do you bring to the table because you’re also involved in the music aspect with these young people?

Eric Hackley interviews Bradford Smith and Gralan Early.

Eric Hackley interviews Bradford Smith and Gralan Early.

BRADFORD SMITH: When Mr. Early hired me earlier this summer, we had already been working together in music productions and Digitracks Studios. We’ve also have worked with almost every artist in the Fort Wayne area.

While I was still living in Las Vegas, Mr. Early called me and said, “Hey, Brad, do you remember the music program I had? Wel,l I need your help.” At this time, I was at the crossroads of coming back to Fort Wayne versus Las Vegas. But to be honest, it had always been in my heart to give back to the community and I realized through some of the conversations that we had of how he already had the program set-up that I can actually make an impact now.

My mindset was that every inspired musician, artist, movie star or anyone with big dreams, and yes I wanted to make a million dollars, then I’ll give back to the community.  But, we had several talks with different people in the community and different people who actually had made it, and they said you can start giving back to the community now because of this music program. So that’s how I got involved.

Since I was traveling, because we’ve always been a team, we’ve never been separated. I was usually the one going out of town. So for the past three years while I have been traveling, we accomplished a lot like doing TV productions for different shows.  We have been able to bring Grammy winners to Fort Wayne and some of the kids had access to that as an experience. So now I’m here in Fort Wayne helping the music program rise to the next level.

HACKLEY: I have noticed that the young people have taken a grasp to your concept because your students are talking about both of you in a favorable way.  What was your method that made the kids accept your instruction?

EARLY:  I believe it’s all about building relationships. It doesn’t matter if from young to old or old to old, it’s about building relationships.  Even with my being older than the students, we still can have certain things in common. Music is something that is so common amongst people. It’s a universal language that we all can understand. So the kids love music, I love music and that’s our connection. So that’s where we start everything. Through building relationships. Now as we have those relationships built, we can now be able to teach them. We can have them be able to open their minds to what we’re saying to them as mentors.

HACKLEY: Mr. Smith, as you instruct these kids, get their interest and try to mold them, how does that spill over to their other classes and other aspects of the education process?

SMITH:  Well I really believe with the music program, like any music program, it’s kind of abstract because at the middle school level. It is very rare that the kids actually get a chance to even learn about music production and music engineering. So we are giving our kids something that we know they have never experienced. So in going into other classes, it really helps their mind because they’re so used to doing math, doing reading and they have to do it for a certain amount of time. When they do music, it’s like it’s an outlet for them.

Because the different experience of us being in the studio and actually doing things outside of the school, they get to meet different people who are very successful. They get to see them. Like it’s one thing reading a book or looking at ESPN and seeing Lebron James, Tiger Woods or whoever the role models are, verses us bringing in someone who had made $500,000 just by doing commercials. Just on that aspect, the kids really gravitate to the music program and we let them know, if you want to be successful you have to be good in math. You have to be good in reading because within all these people’s successes, it wasn’t just because of music class. It was the impact of all the other classes together.

We tell the children no matter if you get a regular job, working for the street department, or off work, when you come home, you’re going to listen to music just to relax your mind.  We know that the music class is very important whether they become very successful at it, or if they just have a regular job or have a doctorate. Like Mr. Early say’s, “it’s the universal language,” so that’s why music is very important to the kids.

HACKLEY: Mr. Early with music being the universal language, does music or even moderate success in music have an impact on the individual’s self-esteem and learning capability?

EARLY: Basically how I see music playing a part in building self-esteem is, most kids will listen to music before they listen to their parents in some cases. Music has now become almost a third parent to our kids. So when they listen to music, they do take what these people are saying to heart and through music it does give them a voice. Not only gives them a voice, but builds their self-esteem because they know the person who wrote that song feels exactly the way they feel and they’re not just alone in it. And if they’re struggling with anything, they know, hey I can always listen to this. This can help motivate me to get through whatever situation.

As far as the self-esteem, when we teach our class, it’s definitely little milestones that they get along the way of just having to learn how to write a rhyming couplet and that’s just like what we call bar or what not.  For them to just learn that and learn multiples which turns into a verse, those are short accomplishments that we praise them along the way, like yeah, you got to keep going but you could say it like this and always make it better.  So now they feel “I can do anything” and through music. So these kids, hopefully when they leave our program, they feel that they can run the world because they’re creative, they’re not inside the box and they can do anything that they put their mind to.

As far as their self-esteem, that self-esteem to me is just knowing that they can accomplish anything. So I think through music, writing and producing all the aspects that we have within in our program, we really build self-esteem from the smallest level to the largest.

HACKLEY: Mr. Smith what do you want to add where, when you teach these kids, or help them develop a skill that’s been latent inside of them, and bring it out, why is it important for them to want to share this gift with people younger than them so that we can create a situation where each one teaches one? Often the kid can get through to another kid when we can’t?

SMITH: It’s something about music that I feel like it’s a certain flash to successful people that when you learn how to create music, it gives you that sense of a thought or an idea. This is where if we can’t pass on anything else, this one of the biggest things we try to pass on through our music program. The fact that you’re thinking of a rhyme, you’re thinking of a note, you’re thinking of an instrument, you are creating a song. In the creating process we let the kids know, if you believe you can make the song about getting good grades, you will get good grades. If you believe you can make a song about being healthy, it will happen. That’s what we are doing. We are feeding kids positive messages through our program so they can pass it to their kids.

Somewhere in our community that has been lost. It’s like the whole arts movement period where it has been a gap that’s just missing and nobody knows what happened to it, and they’re making our program secondary when we tell them, if you can make a song in our class, you can make an “A” in math, you can make an “A” in language.  You can make an “A” in social studies which will get you a scholarship, which will make you go to the next level, which will provide a better home for yourself, which will give you the right thought process of being a responsible adult, which will lead to you picking the right mate which will create a good family. If we can succeed in that, then that’s the job that we want to do.

HACKLEY:  Mr. Early do you want to add to that?

EARLY: Yes, like he said, it’s all about just building it from generation to generation we want to instill a positive message into every kid that they can do whatever that they put their mind to and start closing this generational gap between being lost, to being found and knowing that they can be successful.  A lot of kids in this urban community have no idea what success looks like and have no idea on how to become successful.  We push for that for excellence and it goes right along with our school’s model, “High Expectations, No Excuses.” We push them for excellence in everything, in every aspect of their life.  Music is just something that is around us no matter where you go, in your car, at home, at school you see it, you listen to it on the radio, on the TV.

We’re just giving them something to combat the lack of what they’re being taught. Whether it’s at home or throughout the community, we’re giving them a sense of purpose of belonging to a community.  They try to make something out of themselves so they can pull somebody else up and so that’s how we started changing the community. I believe through our music program, we have been successful in doing that. With not only with me and Mr. Smith, but the team that we have around us that’s actually in the music industry from Grammy producers to songwriters you name it, we’re exposing these kids to know what success looks like and how to be successful, and the process to become successful.

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Category: Arts, Community, Education, Entertainment, Features, People

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at

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