I find myself bracing for terrifying images when I turn on the news these days and I know that I’m not the only one. Many folks have voiced the same wariness I feel when discussing the latest news from around the world. Violent protests in American streets, racial tensions, acts of terror and rampant new diseases; it’s overwhelming! Has the world gone mad? Is there sanity or hope left anywhere?
The answer is: Yes! It takes some focused looking, and it might not make the headlines, but a lot of good is happening in America. There are still Boys and Girls Clubs making a difference in the lives of kids who need a mentor. There are still Community Food Banks providing food for those who need it most. There are still fundraisers for local homeless shelters being sacrificially supported by generous people in record breaking numbers. How do I know this? I’ve witnessed it as it has happened in my own community and I know that it is happening elsewhere as well. I’ve been honored to travel a large part of my home state over the years and the good that I’ve seen being done just in the past eight months has encouraged me more than I can describe.
You might not read news articles about the record breaking fundraiser for the local rescue mission … but it still happened. You might not see interviews by the local TV station about kids whose lives have been changed by their local YMCA or Big Brothers/Sisters program … but it’s happening. The daily good that is done in local communities by kindhearted Americans might be considered “the norm,” but it sure helps to be reminded of it. And we should remind ourselves of the positive things happening around us when we’re tempted to be discouraged.
Just recently, I sat down with the entire staff of a group that is changing young lives in the most dramatic ways and who I believe deserve more headlines than they’ve ever actually received. With their pile of international awards as well as personal success stories, they should actually be grabbing national headlines. America needs to know about it, because they’ve been representing our country on the international stage for several years.
Above the noise of a whirling storm of chaos and unrest around the globe, these young people are producing the sweet sounds of peace and hope from the middle of America. It began as a local choral program, but its influence has reached people around the globe and changed the lives of underprivileged kids. Their name says exactly who they are and what they are about. They are the “Voices of Unity,” a young choral and fine arts group which has been singing and performing for over 14 years; changing the lives of urban, minority and underprivileged youth through a rigorous training program utilizing fine arts as a means of transformation. The “Voices of Unity” choir has represented the United States at international choral competitions numerous times and boast at least three gold medals and a silver medal in various choral performance categories. Considering all of the crises in the world today, it’s only right to celebrate a ray of hope when it is found, and I found just that in this unique group.
Headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Unity Performing Arts Foundation is a multifaceted arts organization with a “focus on developing young people in the areas of character, artistry, and leadership.” What grabbed my attention? The fact that “Character” was listed first in that list. As I learned more about the program, I was thrilled to find that the focus was not only excellence in fine arts, but excellence in every area of life as each student is encouraged to “prepare and equip them for school, college, workforce and adult life.”
The founder and director, Marshall White, has developed this incredibly successful program which is in the process of being replicated in cities across America. What I find most encouraging is that the program is not just about fine arts, although, as a former fine arts teacher that study is near to my heart. Excellence in fine arts is just part of a complete curriculum developed by Mr. White and his team, to encourage kids to aim high with their goals, talents and abilities. Mr. White says it best: “My desire for UNITY’s impact is to become a performing arts platform known for producing great young men and women in whatever profession our students desire to pursue. We want to connect every child to their greatness while they are young, and nurture it, develop it and support them as they grow up with a mind set to make a difference in this world.”
It all starts with a rather lengthy pledge which every member is required to memorize and recite verbatim whenever called upon to do so. The bar is set high from the beginning. Weekly reports of positive personal actions, accomplishments and improvements are required. Good grades are celebrated and openly rewarded and local professionals in a variety of fields are brought in to give instructional lectures. The amazing results are hard to ignore: three earned trips to the World Choral Games, with three gold medals and two silver medals in multiple categories and hundreds of successful college graduates and productive, engaged citizens making a difference today in their communities. Ranging in age from 7 to 19, this small town choir has been representing America for the past several years, carrying the American flag in the parade of nations and competing at the highest international musical levels against choirs whose members are twice their age and experience. The amazing “Voices of Unity” has seen success because they are based on the proven principles of hard work, personal responsibility and self-discipline.
I’ve heard their unique “soulful” sound and watched spellbound, as they played a video of their performance at Carnegie Hall last year. It was amazing! The artistry is second to none and their freedom of expression and ability to communicate is en par with the best of performing artists today.
So, I wonder what would happen if the “Voices of Unity” were given the headlines they deserve? Or, what if they were asked to sing at the White House in a concert aimed at healing racial tensions or bringing unity to our nation once again? I have no doubt they would rise to the occasion as they always do and bring Americans a moment of healing we’ve needed for quite some time. I can picture it now: Mr. Marshall White, smiling his contagious, gracious smile, in the East Room of the White House, lifting is hands to lead those precious young people in his own, unique arrangement of “What A Wonderful World.” There wouldn’t be a dry eye in America!
Whether or not they’re ever invited to perform at the White House, the “Voices of Unity” will continue to change the lives of those hungry for opportunity. And I’m “Just Sayin’”, I have no doubt this group will someday change the world.
If you’re interested in more information on the curriculum, program or accomplishments, check them out online at www.upaf.com.