So this Monday, Shoesmith had some really special guests: the Magnolia Singers from Charlestown, South Carolina. The school has this great program called Musical Mornings, which exposes the kids to different kinds of music. There's an all school assembly in the gym (the only space big enough to fit them all) and musicians get the chance to preform for all those eager ears.
The Magnolia Singers are an amazing group that do praise music from the Gullah tradition. In the low country of South Carolina, slave communities mixed English with African languages to create their own, distinct language, which is now called Gullah. (You can see a super cool exhibit about this at the Dusable Museum of African American History, over in Washington Park. But I digress.)
The Magonolia Singers preform traditional African American spirituals, and they also do rousing music of history and emotion that will get anybody going. There's clapping and foot stomping, with dancing and a history lesson woven on in. This is the way that a whole people communicated for hundreds of years, and it is still amazing when preformed--it's a great treasure that was shared with us and the children.
It was a little bit of serendipity that got the Magnolia Singers at the school. You see, the church where I intern, Saint Paul and the Redeemer, has a big multicultural celebration with musical guests for the yearly festival of Pentecost. They go all out. This year they flew these five singers up from South Carolina to take the church by storm with Gullah music. Since the church wants to be supportive of Shoesmith, they also helped facilitate a Musical Morning so that the Magnolia Singers could share their music with the students there, too.
Community organizations in a school's neighborhood can be a great asset to the school. They can provide the kind of connections that schools need to really thrive as a neighborhood center. They can connect schools with unconventional volunteer pools (and donation pools!) The church wanted to support Shoesmith's arts programming, and so they arranged (through a nonprofit called the Friends of Shoesmith) to have the Magnolia Singers do the Musical Morning on Monday.
It's pretty great what a few connections can do for the benefit of the kids. When I think about how to get things done at schools, I always want to think: Who can we connect with whom? Who has good ideas, and who knows people? This was definitely a serendipity of several people who knew how to make connections: one organization to another. And the kids (and the adults too) got to really enjoy the playful, joyful and beautiful music of the Magnolia Singers. The power of community organizations is super valuable when trying to do good things for the kids. The several hundred kids bobbing up and down and grinning proves how valuable these community connections can be to them.