Don’t Start

An unlikely duo has teamed up to share a positive message with Peoria youth. Dr. Joe Couri and Warith Muhammad recently collaborated on a song for the “Don’t Start” program, aiming to discourage young children from getting involved with violence, drugs and gangs.

Carl Cannon implemented Don’t Start in 2014 as part of the ELITE Youth Outreach Program, now in six Peoria high schools, which works to keep kids out of prison by teaching them to show respect for themselves and others. The initiative offers activities for at-risk students and their parents at Lincoln Middle School and Manuel Academy, and is soon coming to Sterling Middle School.

Dr. Couri, a retired rheumatologist and songwriter, connected with Muhammad through Mirror Image Studios in Bartonville, where they’ve both recorded over the years. “Don’t Start” features a rap by Muhammad, with Dr. Couri and singer Maria Criss contributing vocals. “It’s more of a prevention song than an intervention song,” Muhammad explains. “We want to reach kids before they even start with gangs and violence and abuse of drugs, because we know once you start those things, it’s hard to get out later.”

He and Dr. Couri have had fun performing the song at Lincoln and Quest Academy, as well as at ELITE graduation ceremonies last spring. They’re currently finishing up a music video, filmed at locations all over Peoria to highlight local resources available to children. “We’ve done shoots at Carver Center, South Side Mission, Urban League, Dream Center, Curley ‘Boo’ Johnson’s Basketball Academy—there are so many great programs that reach kids… to keep them on the right path,” Couri explains.

They hope the music video will broaden the reach of their message, and given today’s increased racial tensions, the message itself is a broader one. “[We] come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, cultures… but we just naturally became friends,” says Muhammad. “We want to show kids that people can put all their differences aside, and if you actually sit down and get to know someone, you’ll be surprised.” iBi

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