Band director honored for stopping violence with discipline and music

NEW ORLEANS -- "Music, to me, is a humbling experience."

Lester Wilson, the band director at KIPP Renaissance High School, has been involved in music for 38 years. He's going on his third year at KIPP Renaissance, where he is building a band program that is making the school proud.

"When I got here, we had to start from scratch," says Wilson. "We did well the first year. We won two trophies. I thought that was pretty good for the first year. It usually takes about five years to build a program. This is just year three."

He says his students have won five band competition trophies in the first two years. And, accolades have come with those victories. But, Wilson says even when the band didn't come home with a trophy, they learned something.

"To me, even when you lose, you win. Because you have to learn to be gracious when you lose," says Wilson. "And when you win, you know how to be humble and appreciate it."

The band director and his program were winners this week when Wilson received an honor for helping stop neighborhood violence.

Local singer Blonka handed him a plaque that thanked him for his "efforts to deter violence through music."

Blonka created the Blonka Movement, which also uses music to spread anti-violence messages and sponsors community giveaways to help the homeless. As a bonus, the band department received a donation of premium alkaline water from Styll Water.

Wilson sees music as a way to keep his students away from violent situations or help them stay safe when confronted by violence. And the key is discipline.

"[Music] teaches you to master yourself as much as you can do so," he explains. "So, when you learn music is about discipline, you have to develop discipline in order to go home. There were many times my friends were going out on a weekend when I was learning to play, growing up. Sometimes you got to say, 'I can't go.' You have to stay home. But, you reap the benefits later."

When the school day ends, his band members don't always go home. They stay at school to practice. Wilson says that's an example of the discipline that keeps students safe and makes them successful.

"I tell kids all the time, 'Come to practice. You are doing something positive with your life,'" he says.