Inside HCZ: Gregary Griffin

At 18 years old, Gregary Griffin made his first record sale. He burned 300 CDs of a single, loaded up his backpack, and sold them at $2 apiece at his high school.  He sold every copy before lunchtime.

“That’s when I knew I was set out for this path to create music,” said Gregary, who now cultivates that same passion among his high-school students at HCZ’s Academy for Arts & Civic Engagement (ACE).

Gregary grew up in Rivera Beach, Florida and San Antonio, Texas, in a family that was tightly knit, even though his father struggled with substance abuse.

“My mother had faith and my father was always there. Through them, I learned the concept of never giving up,” said Gregary.

Gregary was steadfast in his dreams of pursuing a career in music. He even turned down a scholarship to produce with a famous rapper. For one summer, 19-year-old Gregary enjoyed the “quintessential rapper’s life” of cars, parties and money – but it ended when the rapper was sent to prison. Gregary rerouted himself and enrolled at the University of Texas at San Antonio to study music marketing.

Click below to hear Gregary play the keyboard at The Academy for Arts & Civic Engagement afterschool (ACE) at HCZ.

His father’s battle with substance abuse motivated Gregary to work supporting teens struggling with drug addiction, but in 2012, he was laid off.

“I had this calling where I knew I had to go to Los Angeles. Something told me to prepare myself to move,” said Gregary. But that changed once he watched the documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

After hearing Harlem Children’s Zone President Geoffrey Canada speak about his mission in the film, Gregary immediately applied to work at HCZ and took the job even before making moving accommodations.

“Seeing someone so passionate about our children’s education touched me, but seeing how broken our education system had hurt me,” said Gregary.

Gregary moved to New York and began to work at HCZ’s TRUCE afterschool program. He became a teaching artist and built a curriculum around his students’ growth as artists and individuals.

“I want to provide a place where these kids feel safe and discover who they truly are without outside influence,” said Gregary.

He is eager to support his students as when one began to struggle with depression and lost interest in going to college. Gregary had designed a system that would only give students studio time if they completed academic assignments and college prep. The student was passionate about music and so was happy to exchange academic time for hours in the studio. Eventually, the student was accepted to LaGuardia Community College and learned to manage his depression through art.

Gregary leads art programming at ACE and continues to record music and create films, including a project featuring his mother and his father (who is now more than 20 years sober).