As the world’s biggest heavy metal band, Metallica, was starting to wrap up the wildly successful “WorldWired” tour in 2018, they were wondering how they could give back to the communities they had been visiting.
What they came up with was, of course, a very “metal” approach to philanthropy.
Think of it as heavy metal coming full circle. Black Sabbath pioneered the sound in the late-60s, inspired by the factories in their industrial hometown of Birmingham, England.
Metallica picked up the torch, so to speak, in the ‘80s and has become a household name, selling more than 125 million albums, grossing more than $1 billion in ticket sales, and playing on all seven continents. Now, Metallica is giving back to those industries that inspired the genre more than 50 years ago.
Their Metallica Scholars initiative, part of the band’s nonprofit All Within My Hands Foundation, helps community college students across the United States get into trades like welding, machining, industrial maintenance and automotive technology.
Those careers share a common element, according to Tom Brown, who applied for Clackamas Community College to be part of the initiative in 2019.
“The theme of our application was heavy metals,” Brown said. He’s not sure exactly what set CCC’s application apart, but the school became one of the first 10 community colleges to take part in the program. He’s now the school’s TechHire project outreach coordinator.
“That was a real whirlwind that first year,” Brown said. “When the announcement came out, I don’t think Clackamas Community College has ever gotten press like that before. Suddenly it was everywhere.”
Being selected meant that Metallica would be providing the tools of these trades, literally: from wrenches and calipers, to spray guns and high-tech welding hoods. The band was making sure students in the program had equipment to start trade careers.
Renée Richardson, director of philanthropy at the All Within My Hands Foundation, said the band had already been working for years to fight food insecurity. They were wondering how else they could help people, when frontman James Hetfield had an idea.
“His kids were about to go into college and he was kind of wondering like, ‘Hey, what happened to trade education? How come my kids weren’t talked to about becoming a plumber, becoming a welder?’” Richardson said.
And so the Metallica Scholars program was born.
John Phelps is a welding instructor at CCC who was already a die-hard, lifelong Metallica fan when he heard the news about the program.
“I just couldn’t believe that this band that I grew up listening to was investing in the place that I work with, the students that I trained, to help strengthen our community,” Phelps said.
One of the school’s first Metallica Scholars, Jessica Jones, said she first noticed the program after seeing students with matching T-shirts.
“There was a pretty good group of students that I would see with these Metallica T-shirts on,” she said. “And I was like, ‘How do I get one of these shirts?’”
A self-described “rocker chick,” Jones had been a huge Metallica fan since high school in the ‘90s. She’d been through a rough patch in her life and had just decided to go back to school in 2019.
“So then I started kind of hearing rumors like, ‘Oh there’s this grant available. They’re buying tools for students,’ and I was like, ‘Right on,’” Jones said. “I didn’t even know that it was something that would be available to me … I was still trying to navigate myself as a nervous 40-something starting school over again.”
She applied and got into the program. Jones got her “badass” welding hood, jacket, gloves, grinder and other tools she doesn’t think she would’ve otherwise been able to access.
“It really boosted my confidence,” she said. “I took that certification test and I passed it my first term of welding school here — and I was very proud of that.”
Jones started working immediately after that, and has worked as a welding teacher throughout the pandemic. She said the experience has also inspired her three kids, one of whom is following her lead and is now in college.
Jones is just one of hundreds of students who’ve now gone through the Metallica Scholars program in Oregon City. Phelps said each student is an amazing success story.
“They’ve taken that skill and they’ve changed their lives with their choice of employment,” he said. “We have people that are working on aircraft, aluminum landing gear, aluminum military boats. We have people that are just working in the community at general welding and fabrication shops.”
But, he said, there’s something more than ambition, fandom and success connecting these students.
“One of the things that really stood out, that I’m hoping we’re able to capture here, is that students that were selected as Metallica Scholars only took what they needed,” Phelps said. “Everyone that was selected was very careful of these funds, and they wanted to make them stretch, for themselves and to help another student in our program.
“If a student already had a welding jacket, they wouldn’t ask for a welding jacket. They would let those funds help another student get something else that they were in need of.”
Phelps and Brown said it’s because of that compassion and selflessness Clackamas Community College has been able to stretch its funding to help 233 students so far.
Richardson said she has noticed the same selflessness on a national scale at the foundation.
“Oh my gosh, have I noticed that,” she said. “The first year I came on to work on this project, it was like, commonplace: ‘There’s Renée crying again, reading the emails about what’s going on.’”
She said that common theme — students helping each other and helping their communities — was something the band expected would surface when Metallica fans were involved.
“It’s heartwarming,” she said. “It’s something I think the band has always hoped would come together, that the fans are as eager to give back as they are to rock out!”
Now starting its fourth year, the Metallica scholars program has expanded to 32 community colleges in 27 states, and so far it’s helped 2,000 students nationwide. Another Oregon school, Columbia Gorge Community College, is entering its second year as part of the program.