By fourth grade, Phil Cruz had become accustomed to being picked on by the neighborhood kids, who pushed him down the bleachers one day. Saddest of all, his older brother PJ was among the bullies.

But while the bullies laughed, Phil joined the Little Kids Rock program at Gibsonton Elementary. With support and encouragement from his Little Kids Rock teacher, Mr. Johns, Phil practiced guitar and built up his confidence to the point where he was able to stand in the spotlight onstage at his school talent show, performing in front of those same bullies, who now cheered for him. And his big brother, who didn’t have Phil’s back the day he was knocked down, now backed him on the drums.

“It was a turning point for Phil,” says the boys’ mother. “His whole demeanor changed. His persona on stage is so big and so commanding. I don’t even recognize him; he’s another Phil.”

With PJ on drums, Phil formed a band that writes original music and performs regularly in the community. It’s has turned Phil into a leader, and has brought the two brothers closer together.

“Through this musical journey, they have become inseparable,” says their mother.

Music transformed Phil’s life by giving him an outlet to express himself and build his confidence. It also transformed his school by giving the kids who used to bully Phil a positive reason to interact with him. He has even inspired younger students to take up guitar and he gives them lessons!

“Without [Little Kids Rock], Phil might still be the shy kid with no friends,” says his mother. “Because of music, he’s been able to find his niche in the world and gain respect from the other kids who have become his fans.”

Perhaps the most important of those fans is his big brother, PJ.

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