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The University of the Virgin Islands Voices of Inspiration community choir took to the stage at the Great Hall on the Albert A. Sheen Campus Saturday night on St. Croix in its inaugural performance of “Dare To Be,” a special musical production featuring empowering messages geared toward young people ages 12-21.
The 31-voice ensemble — comprised of UVI students, alumni, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the local community — presented short skits, personal testimonials, poetry readings and songs intended to spur local youth on to greatness.
One such message came from 17-year-old Jacena Howell, a senior at the St. Croix Seventh-Day Adventist School and early-admission student at UVI. From having raised $5,000 in less than three months in order to attend a summer program at California’s Stanford University to soon after being accepted on a full $10,000 scholarship to study in China, the young lady seemed to bubble over with inspiration.
“People don’t determine who you are now or who you will become,” Howell said, while opening up about some of the challenges she faced from naysayers in her quest for success.
She then offered the captive audience this advice: “Take your strengths and make them stronger; take your weaknesses and make them strengths.”
The “Dare To Be” performance was centered around the 20th high school reunion of the class of 1995 that unfolded in four scenes in a two-act mini play with songs and uplifting messages sprinkled throughout.
As the first scene opened, class members were seen gathering at a cafe happily greeting each other and observing how much they all had changed over the years. Soon, topics of bullying, pride and low self-esteem were brought to light. Much of the dialogue focused on the physical transformation of classmate Franciene, played by Wyndi Ambrose. In high school, Franciene was teased because of her weight; now two decades later, she showed up at the reunion 100 pounds lighter and almost unrecognizable.
But, her transformation did not come without turmoil. Franciene revealed that as a result of her poor self image — something she had worked to overcome — she had tried to commit suicide five years before. The scene closed with a melodic duet of “How Long Will I Love You,” performed by Franciene and Cameron, her close friend from high school.
As the program continued, guest presenter Liz Combie highlighted the topic of teenage pregnancy and encouraged young girls to value their bodies. She admonished them to seek to discover their worth and to be mindful of the relationship choices they make.
Voices of Inspiration members Jermaine Tavernier and Bianca Almonte presented the poems, “Who You Are” and “What Guys Look for In Girls,” respectively. They encouraged young girls to embrace themselves just as they are.
But the guys were not without inspiration. They received plenty of it during a presentation narrated by Gregory Evans and Jahdel Jules that first showcased the downtrodden demeanor of young women appearing to be struggling with depression, insecurities, and a host of other emotional issues. The young ladies were all brought back on stage, this time to demonstrate the difference in their demeanor once they began to love themselves.
At the end of that presentation, Evans, who worked in the local prisons for 11 years, encouraged the young men in the audience to stay away from behaviors that could lead to incarceration.
Jules, a 2013 UVI graduate and nurse at St. Croix’s Juan F. Luis Hospital, implored young men to be confident, have faith in themselves, and more importantly, he said, to put God first.
VI Consortium caught up with Jules who offered more advice to young males.
“I would encourage young men to dare to be better than the status quo,” he said. “The young men are a minority in this society today and they are being involved in so much activities that are not uplifting to them, and that would allow them to grow academically or spiritually.”
These vices, Jules said, are, “violence, drugs, sex, smoking, all these things are just captivating our minds and our nature just pulls us into it.” However, the young man maintained that both he and his peers should be “better than that and have faith in ourselves. We can live in this world, but we are called to be not of it.”
Voices of Inspiration is the brainchild of Josephine Thomas-Lewis, affectionately known as JoJo. She told VI Consortium that UVI’s previous choir had dissolved and in 2012, she came on board to revive the group.
In explaining the evening’s “Dare to Be” theme, Thomas-Lewis, an educator by trade, said, “Because I’m around kids very often and I see how unhappy they are with who they are, they aspire to be anything else but themselves, it was God-driven that I needed to pour into these kids.”
“That’s why we’re calling it “Dare to Be,” she continued, “because we really don’t know what they want to do, what they want to be, so we’re touching different topics tonight — be you, be different, be bold.” Thomas-Lewis said she plans the production to be an annual endeavor along with the choir’s other performances.
Felicia Emmanuel, who has been involved in the group since its inception in 2012, said it has served as a place for her to grow in important areas of her life.
“It think it was a great outlet for me because I was very musically inclined, I loved singing, I loved performing and dancing, but I needed something other than the academics to help me to express myself,” she said. “Choir not only taught me to get over my shyness, but it also helped me to improve on my techniques.”
Youth in attendance received gift bags, coloring books and other educational materials.
Voices of Inspiration will perform next on April 25. The group is open for enrollment and can be reached at (340) 690-5269 for more information.
Feature Image: Gregory Evans leads UVI Voices of Inspiration in”Get Up!” at “Dare To Be” finale.
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