Are You Ready for The Change?

The Change is a funk band empowering youth and transforming lives through the power of music.

Photo of Kayla McKinney
20 11

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Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Date Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

When I was in middle school, I experienced a lot of bullying. It caused me to experience severe depression and anxiety. A classmate of mine took his life when he was only 11 years old and I understood how he must have felt because I had contemplated suicide too. I wrote a song to try and express my pain and that is when I first recognized the power of music. Not only did it help other people cope, but it helped me heal as well. I started sharing my story and it was so powerful to realize I wasn't alone and even more powerful to educate other youth that they weren't alone either. I was blessed to start a band with some friends who had gone through some really tough times too. We started touring full time and sharing our stories with as many kids as possible. We encourage youth to use their pain for good. The power of this peer to peer mentorship is extraordinary!

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Bullying is a serious problem in our country. 20% of high school students say they have seriously considered suicide within the last 12 months because of it. We believe Bullying exists because of lack of education, lack of support, and lack of empathy. We need to empower youth to stand up to bullying but we also need to reach those doing the bullying. Kids are DYING because of bullying and we won't stop until we have put an end to this epidemic.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

My band, The Change, tours the East Coast spreading an anti-bullying message to schools, after-school programs, community centers and more. We aim to ignite passion in youth that inspires positive choices, self-respect, empathy, and accountability. During our concerts, we share stories of our struggles and stress to youth that they aren't alone, that being different is a strength, and that they too can overcome adversity. We believe the lack of empathy is the root of the bullying epidemic and we must instill empathy in this generation if we want to see change. We aim to unite others under the premise that we all hurt & that we can all heal. We believe everyone, even bullies deserve to feel safe and supported. We teach that no matter what you've done, no matter what someone has done to you, no matter what you're going through, you can rise above and you can use your experiences to help others. We believe this message empowers youth by giving a purpose to their pain. Empowered, empathetic, educated youth do not bully others and they are at a significantly smaller risk of taking their own life. We plan to empower as many youth as we can and won't stop until we see significant change.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

We often walk into an auditorium filled with 1,000+ students expecting a musical performance who leave receiving a life-changing experience. We create a safe space where kids can interact and express themselves freely without judgment. We perform upbeat popular songs that bring instant engagement and share our struggles through powerful storytelling & passionate spoken word. We convey that you don’t have to let your pain define you & your struggles can actually empower you. Each participant identifies what they personally stand for and we invite them to share it on the mic. Collectively, we unite and pledge kindness. We end with our empowerment song Be The Change & stress how important it is to reach out if you're struggling. At the conclusion, we meet one on one with students, provide empowerment packages & invite them to become difference makers in their community.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We uniquely combine music, relatable stories, peer to peer mentorship, under-resourced youth & a partnership with Free2Luv, a youth empowerment nonprofit. This combination is very powerful. Kids listen to us because it’s easy for us to understand where they are coming from & they take us seriously because we speak their language. We use popular music to connect and share our deepest hurts & pain with them. We help them realize they’re not alone & that they too can rise above. Our interaction doesn’t end at the stage. Through Free2Luv, we provide resources to help students continue to thrive.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We have reached over 35,000 students in the past 4 years. We regularly have administration & teachers thank us because our program positively impacted their school. Students are inspired to reach out for help & they are inspired to help others. Some have even started clubs and asked how they could use their talent to make a difference. We have people tell us that we saved their lives or kept them from hurting themselves. Recently we had a counselor call us to tell us a student came to him after one of our shows. She had a note, and a plan to commit suicide but she was inspired by our program to come forward and ask for help. We have had approximately 10,000 people take the Free2Luv Kindness pledge with us with a goal to reach 1 million people. Together we pledge a zero tolerance for hate, to being the best me we can be, to choose kindness and stand up to bullying.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We joined forces with Free2Luv, a national nonprofit who shares our mission. Together we have created UNSTOPPABLE, a program specifically aimed at serving at-risk youth. Our goal is to instill hope in our peers who are often marginalized, bullied & afforded little opportunity to thrive and prosper. We hope to inspire these kids who haven't had a chance to experience pride or self worth & give them a platform to become a leader. We will form leadership alliances in each area we visit with our Unstoppable concert tour. These groups will be made up of diverse group of students who otherwise may not have realized their leadership potential. We plan to stay connected with these groups & help them make a long-lasting change in their communities.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

More than ever we need to offer our empowerment programming free-of-charge, especially to underserved communities. However, it is very expensive to tour. Some of our expenses include hiring professional sound & lighting technicians, rental vans to haul equipment & hotel accommodations. In the past, we have done fundraisers and obtained sponsors but we have been limited in the number of tours we could afford to do. We hope to increase our outreach this next school year but in order to do so, we need funding. We volunteer our time & often have significant out of pocket expenses that aren't sustainable in the long run. We have all the pieces of the puzzle ready to go out and Be The Change and we are ready to take our program to the next level.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

Our program is focused on encouraging others to make a difference. We believe that the empowering feeling you get from helping others changes your life while you are changing the lives of those around you. We hope to inspire others to Be The Change in their own communities and inspire youth to become leaders. Free2Luv has a youth advocacy program where youth can join hands and be a part of the movement alongside many famous celebrity ambassadors. There are advocates all over the United States and we are recruiting more each day. I was also instrumental in forming The One Voice Project, a group of youth musicians in my hometown who have made a commitment to use their music to make a difference in the world. They often tour with us bringing more diversity into our outreach. As we start the leadership alliance in each community we visit, the ripple effect will expand even more! Music unites people in a way that nothing else can. We also hope to inspire other musicians to spread the love. We have a unique platform to use our voice and we believe that is it our obligation to use that platform to make a difference every chance we get. Anyone Can Be The Change.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc) (8)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community
  • LGBTQ community

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Photo of Ariyan Miller

Hey There Fellow Changemaker,

Congrats on moving to the next phase. I wishing you the best of luck ! & I am sending love and light to all the positive things that you do.

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