Reflections by the “Blues People Young Writer’s Workshop”
Black Music Research—Truly a Labor of Love!
Music is the foundation of much emotion, expression, communication, education, and entertainment. Some music has victorious, progressive, or prideful undertones while other music may represent defiance, struggles, or lamentation. Coming from all of these combined perspectives, our touring group of five aspiring young writers from the Mississippi Delta and five adult facilitators sojourned in Chicago, Illinois, for a three day workshop entitled “Blues People Young Writer’s Workshop” with the theme of “Telling Our Own Story through Rhyme and Reason.”
The primary purpose of this series is to encourage elementary, middle, and high school students to make life-long commitments to academic excellence through creative writing, critical thinking, oratory, and participatory action research leading to community involvement and civic responsibility. The project is sponsored by the Sunflower County Parents and Students Organization of Indianola, Mississippi, and was developed and supported by the Delta Research and Cultural Institute at Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena, Mississippi, and Black Bayou Cultural Heritage Management Company in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Mississippi Delta has been rooted in the blues, where it was not uncommon to hear the sounds of music pervading from juke houses, plantations, homes, radios, or televisions. With this type of grounding, our youth and adult participants approached this tour thinking we know music. This was until we visited the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago.
Upon entering, we were truly in awe of the Center’s vast collections. They displayed a compilation of written, audio, visual, and photographic resources dedicated to the study of black music from around the world—all under one roof! This was truly an eye opener for us all! It was clear that we were being educated by experts in the field of ethnomusicology who had expansive professional and practical experiences and passion that blended very well in their content delivery. We were given a comprehensive set of materials and handouts which highlighted the Center’s program initiatives and literature on music geniuses (some known and some unknown to us).
Our group was exposed to an array of significant, challenging, and exciting career paths shared, first hand, by practitioners who work as black music researchers as a true labor of love. We left with a renewed sense of pride in seeing how a critical aspect of African-American culture is being organized, managed, safe-guarded, and promoted.
We are most grateful to and commend Dr. Monica Hairston O'Connell and her entire staff who have clearly mastered bringing the art of music into play in an engaging and scholarly matter to reflect both the historical context and future implications that music plays. It was clear to everyone that Columbia College Chicago is committed to providing vital institutional support for the Center and its work. For anyone desiring a quality education or related music research, the Center for Black Music Research is a must-visit location.
After this tour, our creative minds soared! The task of placing words into a music composition now served much more for us than a writing project, but an endless moment to create an oasis of idea exchange and life expression. We now realize that our music, dated back to Africa, allows us to be connected by common threads and represented with varying genres to give us a special kinship with each other and the world. During our moments of silent reflections on the train ride home, you could almost hear the melodic memories of the Blues People playing inside the minds of each person. With an enlightened vision of new and unlimited career paths, each person realized, certainly, we have a story to be told, a song to be sung, or an instrument to be played!
Sunflower County Youth Participants
Yasmine Carter-Romney, Nakarrius Griffin, Deborah Hawkins, Myron Hawkins, Wylesia Martin, Anedia Minton, Brianna Reed, and Jarvis Woods.
Marvin Haire, Ph.D., (Director, Delta Research and Cultural Institute, Mississippi Valley State University); Temita S. Davis and Toshawnda Harris (Black Bayou Cultural Heritage Management Company); Betty L. Petty, Director, and Mattie Todd (Sunflower County Parents and Students Organization).