He’s younger than you might expect, and he comes in running. Energized. The kids like that. There are twelve of them, boys this time, and the room is crowded and no one’s saying much at first.
Then DJ Grant Shapiro turns to the controls and starts with some details—“The volume’s here, the fader’s on this side”—which seem overwhelming at first, but it won’t be, he tells the kids, after a while.
“What kind of music do you play?” one of them finally breaks their ice.
“All kinds—I play a lot of places. House music, Old School hip-hop—“
“Dub-step?” one of them asks. We wonder what on earth is dub-step?
But DJ Grant knows. “Yeah,” he says, “but I’m going to start you out with some Tupac.”
And as that beat fills the little room, everything else starts to go away. Why they’re all here—where they’ve been, what they’ve been through. Some of them came in with their teeth falling out to crystal meth. Others were shooting heroin and stealing cars. Sleeping on the streets, in the parks—they’ve all got their stories.
DJ Grant, too—he lost his brother to a freak drug accident. That’s what got him in this door. But now that he’s here, it stops mattering for a while, just like it does for the kids. Because what matters is the music, and the way they’re all connecting to it. To music as a way of living. Something that’s bigger even than drugs on the street. A different kind of escape—better, real.
And DJ Grant Shapiro is giving it to them. Teaching them to how to make it theirs, like he made it his in his own dark days. But now he’s smiling—they’re all smiling. They’re in the music. Life is good.
“When he leaves,” says John Morabito, the music program director, “the residents are constantly asking me when he’s coming back.” They line up for their chance with him. “He has really been a blessing to Phoenix House Academy.”
DJ Grant (Grant Shapiro) is a volunteer in the Phoenix Rising Music Program at the Phoenix House Academy of Los Angeles at Lake View Terrace. The DJ equipment was donated by the DJ AM Memorial Fund, and the studio was established with support from Kara DioGuardi, Jason Flom, Michael Gorfaine, Michael Laskow/Taxi, and Samuel Schwartz.