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Music Department raises funds for migrants with Black Album Mixtape

Christalyn Barker
The Latin Ensemble performs “Ritmo Color Y Sabor” during “From There To Here, Which Way To Tomorrow” benefit concert on March 18, 2024 in 1014 S. Michigan Ave. The concert championed openess and NewLife Centers who help migrants with shelter, donate to communities imp[acted by gun violence and connect people to “Christ and Community.”

In September, the Music Department Technical Director Steve Hadley noticed a large group of migrants living outside of the 1st District Chicago Police Station in the South Loop. 

“I heard so much online and so much in the news about people’s thoughts. I just wanted to learn for myself,” Hadley said.

Hadley wanted to ask the migrants about their experiences, as most of them in Chicago arrived from Venezuela. But, since he doesn’t speak Spanish, he brought his 14- and 12-year-old sons along to translate. 

The experience led Hadley to want to do more. 

This Monday, March 18, the Music Department hosted “From There to Here, Which Way to Tomorrow” at the Concert Hall of 1014 S. Michigan Ave. The benefit concert was done in collaboration with Regina Taylor and the Black Album Mixtape project, which explores the theme of “Stand Up, Speak Out” through a selection of artistic mediums.

Hadley came up with the idea for the Music Department to raise money for New Life Centers, a local non-profit that provides housing for migrant families. 

“They walked through nine countries. They walked through the Darién Gap jungles, which are considered the most dangerous place on earth.” They told Hadley that when they got to Mexico, they could either walk across the country or ride “the beast.”

“The beast” is a freight train that people sit on top of to carry them across Mexico, Hadley said.

One of the men at the police station told Hadley that while riding, he was attacked by the military, causing him to fall and have both of his legs severed by the train. Hadley said the man then handed him a cell phone and showed him a video of his injuries that was taken immediately after the accident.

Hadley was shocked by what he heard, especially since the man appeared to be joyful. “I asked him, how can you be so happy?”

Using Google Translate, the man typed to Hadley, “I am happy because despite my difficulties, I have God in my heart, and that’s most important.”

Music Department chair Sebastian Huydts also felt a personal connection to the cause.

He came to the United States 32 years ago as an immigrant. “In Chicago, I found an incredible amount of people who helped me,” Huydts said.

The concert featured performances by student ensembles. Between performances, there were videos shown of migrants, whose faces were blurred for privacy, talking about their experiences coming to the United States.

Many of the ensembles performed original music that they submitted to the Black Album Mixtape.

The Black Album Mixtape is a project created by Taylor, an actress and playwright. Students can submit creative work that explores social issues that will be part of a new digital collection. Taylor started the project in 2020 at Southern Methodist University at the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Taylor brought the project to Columbia in the fall.

“Now is not the time to be silent about what’s going on in this country and around the world,” Taylor said. “These students’ voices matter.”

The New Music Ensemble performs at Regina Taylor during “From There To Here, Which Way To Tomorrow” benefit concert on March 18, 2024 in 1014 S. Michigan Ave. They performed a rendition of “Dragonfly” by Aliana Chambliss. (Christalyn Barker)

Columbia’s partnership with the Black Album Mixtape will conclude with the Block Party on April 5, where six submissions will be chosen to win a $400 prize.

Taylor said by participating in the benefit concert, students are “standing up and having their voices heard musically. In this instance, with the concert and to benefit refugees in Chicago, and so matching the arts to social change is the outcome of outreach.”

“It was kind of nice to perform for a reason. Like for a cause,” said Rani Bynum, a senior contemporary, jazz, and popular music major and member of the R&B Ensemble and the Gospel Band.

Ticket sales and donations from the concert support the “New Vecinos” program, which has helped resettle 14,000 people in Illinois since May 2023, said New Life Centers representative Summer George. 

New Life Centers works on case management for a state-run migrant shelter in Little Village. 

“There we provide them anything case management, connection to schools, medical needs, transportation, education while they’re waiting for getting work permits or finding housing,” George said.

The Music Department fundraiser has raised over $2,000 so far. It has a goal to raise $30,000, which is about the cost for New Life Centers to house 60 families. Donations are still being accepted.

“Whether we raise, you know, $10,000 or $10, I’m really proud of them doing it because, you know, Columbia’s had a rough time, as we all know,” Hadley said. “I just think it’s really amazing that in the midst of troubled times, they’re reaching out to help somebody else.” 

Chicago recently started enforcing a 60-day limit at migrant shelters, which was delayed during the winter. The city began evicting the first group of migrants on Sunday, March 17.

“How did they make a living? The 60-day eviction just seems like way too short of a time,” said Joe Cerqua, part-time professor of instruction in the Music Department.

Cerqua organized the event alongside Hadley and Taylor. He said the benefit seemed like the right thing for the college to do.

“Everything that was going on at Columbia with the strike, there were so many of us that felt just so helpless,” Cerqua said. “I thought, well, here’s something that we can actually do. Here’s something that we can actually make a difference in whatever way we can.” 

Senior music major Christopher Ihrig plays guitar in the Latin Ensemble and said he supports raising money to help house migrants.

“It’s a known crisis, but it doesn’t get talked about enough, so I feel like this is great to start building awareness around the issue,” he said.

Copy Edited By Vanessa Orozco

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About the Contributors
Sydney Richardson
Sydney Richardson, Reporter
srichardson@columbiachronicle.com   Sydney Richardson is a sophomore journalism major, concentrating in broadcasting for radio. She is minoring in voiceover. Richardson has reported on campus and metro events, as well as changes to Columbia's Student Life and Residence Life departments of the college. She joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Woodridge, Illinois
Christalyn Barker
Christalyn Barker, Former Photojournalist
cbarker@columbiachronicle.com   Christalyn Barker is a senior photojournalism major, minoring in music business. Barker has covered campus events such as Convocation, Acoustic Kitchen performances, and metro events. She worked for the Chronicle from August 2023 through May 2024.   Hometown: Dearborn, Michigan