This blog is part of a series of posts highlighting the 10 inaugural grantees of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund.

Tyra Hawthorne calls herself a product of music; it was a way to heal throughout the challenges she was presented with in life. As a member of her high school marching band, she continued to Grambling State University on a four-year scholarship to march in the band.

Years later, she hopes to provide that same experience for the students she serves at Heartbeat Music & Performing Arts Academy.

Fostering Opportunity

Hawthorne, the CEO, decided to start Heartbeat to bring the arts and culture of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to the San Diego community, where HBCUs are not present.

Beginning with a drumline and a dance team, she eventually expanded to focus on education and be a guiding light for her band members and dancers.

“I could really utilize the program to reinforce the classroom, motivate students to get good grades and utilize the trips and performances to inspire them to keep their grades above a 3.0 GPA,” she said.

Since then, she has added a free preschool program to the Heartbeat family to prepare children better and give them a head start for the rest of their academic careers.

“A lot of our students who come here (to Heartbeat) do have a lot of deficiencies when it comes to their academics – specifically reading comprehension and spelling,” she said. “When you speak to a lot of parents you find out a lot of kids were missing that early childhood education component.”

Since that addition, Heartbeat has received a $25,000 Early Childhood Initiative grant from San Diego Foundation and the Dr. Seuss Foundation to support its high-quality, interdisciplinary and culturally informed preschool program for children ages 2 – 5 from low-income families.

Heartbeat Music Academy Dance Team

Bigger Than Music

The mission of Heartbeat is clear: bridge the educational gap by introducing students to the wonders of music and dance. Hawthorne believes that music is more than melodies. It has had quite an impact on her students’ academics, well-being and personal growth.

“Music within itself builds a certain level of confidence in our students,” Hawthorne said. “It gives them independence and creativity. It requires a lot of dedication.”

Taylor, a member of the Heartbeat drumline for the past four years, feels he is a testament to that.

“It has helped me grow as a person a lot and helped me adapt to change,” he said. “It’s also helped with my grades academically because before this, I just didn’t care about school, and now it gives me a reason to push and make sure I’m keeping up with all my work.”

Hawthorne said Heartbeat gives her a place in the world. She is honored to do this work.

“When you are working with kids, especially in inner-city communities, what you offer has to have some aspect of healing,” she said. “So many of the kids [who] come in here replicate a lot of my childhood. It’s very easy to reach them because they enter spaces that I’ve already entered.”

About the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund

Heartbeat Music & Performing Arts Academy is an inaugural grant recipient of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund.

In February 2023, Jay Kahn, a local entrepreneur and music lover, donated an unrestricted $100 million cash gift to San Diego Foundation – the largest-ever gift of its kind to a local nonprofit. Thanks to his generosity, SDF created the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, which will perpetually benefit San Diego.

The first grants from Kahn’s gift, which is the third-largest gift of its kind to a U.S. community foundation, include $150,000 unrestricted grants to 10 San Diego-based music education nonprofits to advance their work in the community. The grants intend to grow music appreciation in San Diego in memory of Kahn.

One of the inaugural Jay Kahn Endowment Fund grantees is Heartbeat Music & Performing Arts Academy. Its mission is to bridge the educational gap by introducing students to the wonders of music and dance.

Jay Kahn was born on February 23, 1932, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, to a recently immigrated German father and his second-generation wife. Jay left Benton Harbor just out of high school after receiving a full scholarship to study clarinet at the University of Texas, Denton. Though he didn’t finish the program, classical music, specifically chamber music for winds, remained a lifelong passion of Jay’s. He played in several ensembles around San Diego, including orchestras at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego.

Learn how you can give with San Diego Foundation.