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Healing Through Music

Healing Through Music

By  Camille Odom

unnamedDead? I sat on the loveseat staring into oblivion. How could the ever-smiling girl with a heart of gold be dead? How could the girl who took me to Chipotle for my first time ever, wanting to be the first to do it, be dead? Dead. The word was too heavy, and I could not deal with the weight of such a finite thing. I finally cried. Every ounce of my soul tried to cry the pain away. It was music, my medicine, that rescued me from the despair of losing a friend to a house fire.

Five years before Jasmine’s death, I first saw the power of music to soothe pain. I was ten years old and walked to center-court at a New York Liberty game ready to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” My vocals were accompanied only by a lone trumpet. It was just the microphone and me––and a full-capacity Madison Square Garden.

I looked into the crowd and saw thousands of flashing lights. The announcer said my name, the crowd cheered, and the music started. Ohh, say can you seeeeeeeeeee.

I wasn’t nervous while singing. In fact, my mother was more nervous than me. I saw her visibly shaking. “Someone get this woman a Valium,” I thought.

 

The song was going well, but then it was time for the high note. Considering I started two octaves above what I’d practiced, the note should’ve been a cause for concern, but it was too late to turn back now: And the land of the freeee. Whew. Flawless. The crowd went wild with cheers and whistles. The tension left my mom’s shoulders.

 

At ten years old, I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of this monumental opportunity. The power of the moment was more about Mom. I will never forget how the music eased my mother’s anxiety. The melodious high note was the antidote to her worries.

 

I now see the lasting message in that moment: Music can be a doctor or patient’s best friend. While I love the natural sciences––after all, I am an aspiring physician––music and medicine are closely correlated in my worldview. The right song can improve a bad day. I plan on integrating music into my medical practice as much as possible. As a small child, I watched my baby brother get shots. His fear was embodied with discordant, gut-wrenching screams. Maybe if smooth jazz had acted as an anesthetic, it would’ve calmed his nerves, and he wouldn’t have been so terrified of the shot administered to help him.

 

Music carried me through that tough moment of waking up to both my parents staring at me. “We have something to tell you,” my mom said. Dread settled in my chest. “It’s about your friend, Jasmine.” Jasmine hadn’t come in that day, but no one thought much of it because she had gone to a Beyoncè concert the previous night.  

“Early this morning, Jasmine’s house caught fire. She and her two sisters were both on the top floor. I’m sorry Jasmine is dead.”

I didn’t want to do anything but stay crouched in the fetal position and cry my brains out. Eventually, I played Donnie McClurkin’s “Stand.” The triumphant tone, the strength in the singers’ voices, and the blaring of the instruments combated my defeated mood. The words of the song encompassed everything I was feeling: “And how can you smile when your heart has been broken and filled with pain? The song also gave me the best advice for that moment: “Don’t you dare give up through the storm. Stand through the rain, through the hurt. Yeah, through the pain. Don’t you bow, and don’t you bend. Don’t give up, no, don’t give in. Hold on. Just be strong. God will step in. And it won’t be long.”

 

Music was the only way I could pick up my spirits. Music eased my pain. Music was my medicine.

 

Camille Odom, a graduate of Saint Saviour High School, is a freshman at Spelman College.

Losing a Friend and Learning

by Chloe Mondesir

She was more than a best friend. As an only child, she was the sibling I never had. I lost her on my third day of high school. I wasn’t ready for her death but at 99 she moved on anyway. I found myself alone and against the world in the foreign place called high school. But in the years since, I reminisce on the unique influence of my great grandmother’s presence in my life then and even now. Her death devastated me but the experience of pulling myself up from my grief prepares me for my future more than anything else.

Her name is Mildred and I can still see her in my present. Her smile, slowly opening up leading the way to the rest of her golden face; her plump, petite body relied on her wooden cane but her impact on our family for generations was larger than life. I would walk into a room: “Chloe darling,” she’d say. No one ever made me feel so special just by saying my name.

We played every game together: dolls, and dominoes. We went many places together, from grandma’s backyard to Atlantic City. Today most of my high school friends see me as an older, wiser soul. I need not wonder why. It grows out of the experience of having a close companion, or really a girlfriend, so many years and three generations apart from me. Mildred’s influence touches the lives of so many people I interact with today. My friend, Brittany, came to me last year more stressed than ever. Her father died as she was juggling junior year academic pressure with comforting her mom who, after the death of her husband, didn’t want to be left in the house alone. “Brittany darling, we’ll work it out.” The Mildred in me spoke loudly as I helped Brittany face her own grief while brainstorming hobbies and activities that would help her mother get beyond the pain.

Yet I was trying to grow beyond my own pain without Mildred. I felt like I was starting life over. In my sophomore year, I was still numb. Where was my passion? I was a dancer since three, yet I was not moving in the same way anymore. Always on honor roll since elementary school, I suddenly found myself at rock bottom upon receiving a letter for summer school registration to retake trigonometry. Clearly things decayed to their worst. “Chloe darling,” I thought to myself. I refocused my life and decided to join the school’s bereavement group and I became a new person. If summer school was an opportunity to get back on track with my work, I wanted to give myself the opportunity to address my grieving. I didn’t want to hit rock bottom again. I know the roots of a great part of this wisdom flows from my best friend.

In the beginning of my junior year, I sat in a room full of strangers. “So everybody go around the room and introduce yourself and share who you’ve lost.” I felt like everyone stared at me. Again, even amongst a group of people in similar circumstances I felt different and alone. I uttered something. I can’t remember those nervous words to this day. I just wanted to get through the moment.

The first few sessions were slow. By mid year, I was comfortable and the question became “So how do you feel about your loss now?” Finally after some time, something seemed to change for me. “I feel like this has helped me. I no longer feel as burdened being able to just talk about her as before. I feel better about the loss now.” I could see everyone was taken aback, as was I. In that moment, I suddenly saw the value of time and therapy. I knew then that the entire time I struggled to be comfortable in this group of strangers was necessary for me to reach this fluid stage in my life. I found my future, ambition, and passion in that room. I want to be a psychologist.

Shortly after the confidence boost set in, I found myself dancing again, expressing emotions that were sometimes just unexplainable. I tried out for the dance team. However, this dance team wasn’t in my comfort zone. I grew up with powerful art forms like ethnic dance. Now I needed to master the refined technique of Ballet in weeks. It was overwhelming but I quickly realized the fight inside of me for so long. I would be the only push I would need to get through the audition. First in my beginning stance, and suddenly in my last, I knew I had done what I needed to make the team. Sure enough I found my name in the last spot of the new dance team’s roster. This was the finish line of all my experiences thus far, from loss to struggle, and from struggle to success.

Every source of pain and resentment that I once felt, I learned to fuel for my growth indefinitely. I understand the importance of sharing with people, being honest with myself, and the significance of commitment in everything I do. I am better, stronger, more able and willing to grow. Now here I am, ready to share it all with you.

Chloe Mondesir began her freshman year at Spelman College in September. She is a 2012 graduate of St Francis Preparatory School in Queens.

Losing a Friend and Learning

by Chloe Mondesir

She was more than a best friend. As an only child, she was the sibling I never had. I lost her on my third day of high school. I wasn’t ready for her death but at 99 she moved on anyway. I found myself alone and against the world in the foreign place called high school. But in the years since, I reminisce on the unique influence of my great grandmother’s presence in my life then and even now. Her death devastated me but the experience of pulling myself up from my grief prepares me for my future more than anything else.

Her name is Mildred and I can still see her in my present. Her smile, slowly opening up leading the way to the rest of her golden face; her plump, petite body relied on her wooden cane but her impact on our family for generations was larger than life. I would walk into a room: “Chloe darling,” she’d say. No one ever made me feel so special just by saying my name.

We played every game together: dolls, and dominoes. We went many places together, from grandma’s backyard to Atlantic City. Today most of my high school friends see me as an older, wiser soul. I need not wonder why. It grows out of the experience of having a close companion, or really a girlfriend, so many years and three generations apart from me. Mildred’s influence touches the lives of so many people I interact with today. My friend, Brittany, came to me last year more stressed than ever. Her father died as she was juggling junior year academic pressure with comforting her mom who, after the death of her husband, didn’t want to be left in the house alone. “Brittany darling, we’ll work it out.” The Mildred in me spoke loudly as I helped Brittany face her own grief while brainstorming hobbies and activities that would help her mother get beyond the pain.

Yet I was trying to grow beyond my own pain without Mildred. I felt like I was starting life over. In my sophomore year, I was still numb. Where was my passion? I was a dancer since three, yet I was not moving in the same way anymore. Always on honor roll since elementary school, I suddenly found myself at rock bottom upon receiving a letter for summer school registration to retake trigonometry. Clearly things decayed to their worst. “Chloe darling,” I thought to myself. I refocused my life and decided to join the school’s bereavement group and I became a new person. If summer school was an opportunity to get back on track with my work, I wanted to give myself the opportunity to address my grieving. I didn’t want to hit rock bottom again. I know the roots of a great part of this wisdom flows from my best friend.

In the beginning of my junior year, I sat in a room full of strangers. “So everybody go around the room and introduce yourself and share who you’ve lost.” I felt like everyone stared at me. Again, even amongst a group of people in similar circumstances I felt different and alone. I uttered something. I can’t remember those nervous words to this day. I just wanted to get through the moment.

The first few sessions were slow. By mid year, I was comfortable and the question became “So how do you feel about your loss now?” Finally after some time, something seemed to change for me. “I feel like this has helped me. I no longer feel as burdened being able to just talk about her as before. I feel better about the loss now.” I could see everyone was taken aback, as was I. In that moment, I suddenly saw the value of time and therapy. I knew then that the entire time I struggled to be comfortable in this group of strangers was necessary for me to reach this fluid stage in my life. I found my future, ambition, and passion in that room. I want to be a psychologist.

Shortly after the confidence boost set in, I found myself dancing again, expressing emotions that were sometimes just unexplainable. I tried out for the dance team. However, this dance team wasn’t in my comfort zone. I grew up with powerful art forms like ethnic dance. Now I needed to master the refined technique of Ballet in weeks. It was overwhelming but I quickly realized the fight inside of me for so long. I would be the only push I would need to get through the audition. First in my beginning stance, and suddenly in my last, I knew I had done what I needed to make the team. Sure enough I found my name in the last spot of the new dance team’s roster. This was the finish line of all my experiences thus far, from loss to struggle, and from struggle to success.

Every source of pain and resentment that I once felt, I learned to fuel for my growth indefinitely. I understand the importance of sharing with people, being honest with myself, and the significance of commitment in everything I do. I am better, stronger, more able and willing to grow. Now here I am, ready to share it all with you.

Chloe Mondesir began her freshman year at Spelman College in September. She is a 2012 graduate of St Francis Preparatory School in Queens.

First Job Blues: Battles and Lifelong Lessons

First Job Blues: Battles and Lifelong Lessons

by Diamond Grady

ArundelBayArea_MD_Senior_Grady_DiamondIt was the beginning of the shift. My first table of the evening just sat down. It was a couple I had never seen before in the the restaurant where I worked at a retirement living community. I was eager to meet them. I picked up my water pitcher in a great mood and headed to the table.  When I arrived, I poured the glasses of ice-cold water, and introduced myself. “Hello, my name is Di-” was all I could muster before the gentleman rudely interrupted with the demand that I bring him an iced tea, without even looking at me. Instantly my mood changed, and it took every ounce of my being to swallow my pride. I took the high road as this job has taught me to do and kindly said, “Yes sir.”

Add more living to your life. This is the motto that attracts residents to the community, and ironically, describes what it’s like to work there. I would know — the residents will certainly liven your day during mealtime. This is my first job and it has forced me to mature in ways I never imagined. I have learned to remain calm in the face of so much disrespect from the people that I serve French toast and eggplant Parmesan on a weekly basis.

If being outgoing ever becomes something that can be measured and sold, I would easily become a millionaire. I love to go to social events, interact with different personalities, and socialize with a mixture of diverse people. In high school, my people oriented personality developed into an interest in marketing, a field I intend to explore in college. During my high school years, I never fit into any one clique or limit myself to one group of people. I work very well with others and have always easily got along with most people. Given my personality, I never thought being a waitress at a retirement community restaurant would pose such a difficult challenge.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. At a young age, my parents instilled this lesson in me as well as taught me to always stand up for myself and treat others fairly. Working at the restaurant has exposed me to people who do not always treat me with the same respect that I deserve and show. As a waitress, I can’t stand up to them and demand respect in the way my parents nurtured me to do. This inner conflict has been difficult to navigate. Over time, I have become a more disciplined person as I curb my impulse to say something disrespectful to the rude people I serve. To prevent myself from snapping, I have learned to pause. Breathe in and out.

I have also learned to appreciate and focus on the good rather than allowing the bad to consume my experience at work. The optimist in me has grown. For example, Mr. Jones, a resident who dines at Atrium every day, takes care of his wife, who is diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Though he is always requesting extra food, and therefore making my job harder, he is extremely polite and always has a smile on his face even when dealing with his wife. Almost every time he asks for something else, he always says, “ I do not mean to trouble you but…”This simple comment instantly puts a smile on my face and softens my mood.

I am now more tolerant of others and realize that having the last word is not always important. Sometimes kindness and a smile are the best ways to handle a tense situation. “Kill them with kindness,” as the saying goes. I learned this lesson up close at work. As a result, I have grown into a stronger person as I make my transition into adulthood.

Diamond Grady is a 2014 graduate of Seton Keough High School in Baltimore and a freshman at Spelman College.

Poetry and Basketball Defeat a Scar

Poetry and Basketball Defeat a Scar

By Zenobya Clarke

2014-04-03-298809_4477146576515_608629517_nWhen I was three, I fell off a couch and hit my head on the edge of a coffee  table. My face was busted open; I needed twenty-six stitches.  For years I was self-conscious about my scar. It  not only cut through my face but  controlled my view of myself as I often shied  away from people.

Two passions rescued me from limiting myself– basketball and poetry. They seem worlds apart yet I eventually united them as a force in my battle against the scar. I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember and playing basketball before I learned to ride a bike at seven. The scar never mattered more than my skills as a player on the court, which forced me to work harder at the game. The art and the sport were my temporary escapes.

My words were my own and I spent hours engraving them onto the pages of my notebook. Poetry was my hiding place. I kept my writing secret, until I was no longer comfortable existing apart from the world.  Somehow I found the strength in middle school to take  a leap and sign up for a poetry reading at my church.

My heart pounding and hands cold, I sat waiting on the edge of the hard wooden pew. The church rang with applause; I was next. Immediately, the scar produced fear that surrounded me, holding me back. In my mind, everyone was there to see that mark rather than listen to my  poetry.  The butterflies scraped  their wings along the walls of my belly. I walked up on the stage and kept my back to the crowd,  scared to turn around. The butterflies flew fiercer. Reaching the podium, I slowly  turned around and raised my eyes to  face what felt like  millions of eyes staring back. I was exposed.  I looked back down at my paper that was now wrinkled from nervous hands. There was no turning back. I took one more look at the crowd and then took a deep breath. I  began to read and entered a world where my words encased me, holding me close then flowing from my mouth:

Boom Boom,

The pounding of the ball and my heart are one

The glides of my feet move like a pen across a page from a woman’s  angry heartless goodbye from spouse she once loved

My eyes stare across an empty court

My ears no longer hear the sound of a roaring crowd

Then like  dance

No

Like a painting

No

Like poetry

I twist and glide across an empty court to score a basketball

And it all comes back to

The roaring crowd

The empty court

All come back and the world I was in becomes a memory

But no worries because I know it will be back soon

I left the podium and escaped the staring eyes–proud with  a sense of fearlessness  bursting  through me.  Those same  poetic words that I used to hide myself, now became a door to find my individualism in such a public way. It built my self-confidence.

This new part of me felt larger than my insecurities and shined even more as basketball grew into more of a gateway of my expression.  On the court I played center; I did not shy away from the world. In fact,  I became a leader on the court in a moment that resembled my first poetry reading. In my freshman year, my team was losing a game.  Suddenly my confidence as a poet gave me a burst of unbelievable passion. Without realizing, I started yelling out to my teammates,  “Lets pull ourselves together!”  That comment revived the team’s dynamic flow. We played stronger. The moment echoed the part of me that I carried away from the church and far beyond the awareness of the scar.

I became involved without fears in several  community service projects–some sponsored by  my local chapter of  Jack and Jill of America Inc., an organization of African American families.  I even travelled to South Africa to teach poetry to children  through the Artworks for Youth Program when I was 15. I led a class of six boys in a dusty broken down classroom in Joe Slovo Township. I pushed them to tell  the stories of  their lives– the good and the bad. We all shared a connection. Our poetry was our therapy, linking our words  together. We laughed, cried, sang, and  even danced. On some days, we were really silly. Indeed I  left the summer feeling that fears over that little scar were even sillier.

Zenobya Clarke is a 2013 graduate of Packer Collegiate Institute and is now a Freshman at Spelman College.

Princess Nyla

by Nyla Nation

My first class was gym. I sat alone on day one of high school. I did not know anyone and felt relieved when two strangers, Alvin and Eric, sat beside me on the bleachers. Maybe a new friendship?

“Hey! What town are you from?” Alvin asked.

“Westbury.”

Eric chimed in, “What school did you go to?”

”Westbury Middle School.“

“So…Did you hear the new Lil Wayne song?” added Alvin.

The conversation took a mysterious turn. Alvin and Eric changed the tones of their voices to their versions of how black people talk. It felt as foreign as this school.

“Do you like fried chicken and watermelon?” Eric said, with a weird grin.

I was speechless on my first day ever in a predominantly white school.  Welcome to Long Island Lutheran High School.

Four years later, I am completely at home at the school that once felt foreign. A few weeks ago, Alvin and Eric sat across from me in fashion class. Eric asked, “Hey, Nyla, did you get a new weave?”

I laughed. I have grown comfortable around them. I grew to love LUHI after the first two weeks of total alienation. I have always refused to allow others to deter me from opportunity. Perhaps it all started with my name. For years, I was under the impression I was actually a natural born princess after I discovered that my mother gave me the name Nyla because it means “Ethiopian princess.” I carried the confidence that came with the name to encounters similar to the watermelon moment. I was five years old when my eight-year-old cousin called me a dweeb. I instinctively responded, “No! I’m a princess, not a dweeb!”

More than just the name sustains my strength; so does dance. It has always been a pivotal and constant factor in my life–Ballet, modern, liturgical, and jazz. I have danced in my church’s Allen Liturgical Dance Ministry since I was six and have been enrolled in dance schools since I was five. At sixteen, I met the hardest yet most meaningful dance ever. The name of the dance says it all: “Hurt.” The demanding dance was upbeat and fast, which was very different from the church’s slow and flowing ballet dances. It challenged my agility. When my dance teacher saw me struggling to finish the dance, she yelled: “Lose some weight, Nation! Maybe that’ll help!”

Out of breath, I did not respond. I devoted every day after that to practicing. Her comment motivated me. I did not allow her perceptions of weight and dance to stop me from mastering “Hurt.” In the show, I performed stronger and was a better dancer with tougher skin.

Yet even before that moment, I was a princess of tough skin to make it through so many transitions. My family moved from Queens to Westbury when I was ten years old. I left a small, multiracial private school in Queens where not one race was in the majority. In Westbury, I entered a larger public school with a black majority and without any friends. By the time that I was at home in Westbury’s public schools, I moved again to LUHI. Two weeks after my horrible first day of school, still apprehensive, I stepped on the bus to go on the freshman retreat. I had just heard the news that I made the dance team, which made the school a little more tolerable. I finally felt that I had a niche in the school. I had yet another outlet for my anxiety, fear, and stress. Gradually, I revealed my bubbly, outgoing, extroverted personality. I introduced myself to peers and held conversations that were nothing like my interactions with Alvin and Eric. By the time that I danced in my first pep rally at homecoming, I was in love with LUHI.

Eventually, I got to know Alvin and Eric. I now understand that the boys were joking on that first day and really did not mean any harm. They were trying to make my first day of school more comfortable and enjoyable with jokes but were not aware that they were offensive.

In a way, I am thankful for the boys from gym class, my cousin who called me dweeb, and my harsh dance teacher. Through life-shaping transitions, my confidence has been tested many times. I am stronger with every encounter with adversity. I may not be a natural born princess, but I am still a princess. I am Nyla.

Nyla Nation, a graduate of Long Island Lutheran High School, is a freshman at Spelman College.