VOICC Tackles Self-Esteem Through Performing Arts

FELICIA EMMANUEL|

ST.CROIX – “Dare to be true. Dare to be you. Dare to be,”— the University of the Virgin Island’s Voices of Inspiration Community Choir left this message with their audience on Saturday, March 14 when they hosted their first of several community outreach initiatives this semester.

Through the performing arts, the VOICC delivered a lively performance in the Great Hall by combating low self-esteem, bullying and other issues plaguing young people ages 12 through 21.

VOICC Director Josephine Thomas-Lewis felt led to take on the venture because of a combination of inspiration.

“Because I am a teacher, I see kids in that age range being unsatisfied with the skin they are in,” Thomas-Lewis said.

She saw how low self-esteem affected her students’ academic performance and rendered them unwilling to focus.

“We wanted to dare our students to aim higher, stretch further, and to trust they can do more than they realize,” she said.

For a less intimidating setting, the UVI Great Hall resembled a poetry club, complete with a stage, runway, brick backdrop and two standing microphones. Two high, round tables with surrounding chairs stood on each end of the runway.

As the show began, a flurry of voices immediately filled the Great Hall.

These voices came from two large, yet separate groups of chatty choir members who entered the room through one a side door. This fictional class of 1995 walked down the aisles, greeted one another with hugs and engaged in small banter before finally making their way to the stage.

Scene One delivered a message on bullying as lead characters, Franciene and Cameron appeared at their 20th class reunion. Both were severely teased, but Franciene more so because of her weight.

Characters Franciene and Cameron share stories about being bullied in school. Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson
Characters Franciene and Cameron share stories about being bullied in school.
Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson

This led to the choir’s first musical selection and a motivational speech from Jaecena Howell.

Howell recounted her challenges raising $5,000 in three months, but was able to do so through her perseverance. She believed anyone could achieve the seemingly impossible if they took on the challenge.

In Scene 2, Liz Combie stepped on stage to discuss the importance of value.

In addition to her talk, Combie demonstrated how past relationships can affect future ones by calling three young men and women from the audience to participate.

In Scene 3, characters Tania and Crystal recounted their past self-esteem issues. They both made personal comparisons to others they thought “had it all,” but overtime learned to accept themselves.

Franciene re-entered the scene to remind Tania that she didn’t have to “try so hard” to have others accept her.

During the skit, some cast members found themselves in some of the characters. UVI alumni Wyndi Ambrose played Franciene, but related to Crystal. Crystal was a character who felt she was too skinny and needed to be shapely to garner attention.

“In some ways, I felt I identified the most with [Crystal],” Ambrose said.

Like Crystal, Ambrose once thought that having a certain physique would make her feel better about her slim frame, but Ambrose realized that beauty was not solely based on physical appearance.

“Over the years, I’ve come to realize it’s really what you have inside and giving to others. That is what makes you beautiful to other people” Ambrose said. “That’s why I really love singing the song [Try], because I really was moved by it.”

After intermission, the choir donned their “Dare to Be” T-shirts and returned to stage.

VOICC member Bianca Almonte delivered Savannah Brown’s “What Guys Look for in Girls.”

Jaecena Howell recounts her challenge of raising $5,000 in three months.
UVI Student Jaecena Howell encouraged audience members to persevere in the face of obstacles. Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson

As Almonte recited the dramatic piece, she captured both attendees and performers alike.

Following Almonte’s presentation were VOICC singers Gregory Evans and Jahdel Jules, who utilized the runway in the segment, “Who You Are.”

This portion focused on how many young people continually made their insecurities visible to others.

“What do you see?” Evans rhetorically asked, as each young model slowly walked the stage annex.

After brief dialogue from Evans, the young women confidently returned to the catwalk. This time, each girl wore her smile and a stylish dress. Loud cheers and whistles filled the room as the models and brave young men alike strolled onto the runway.

In this case, Ambrose felt this segment encouraged crowd interaction.

“Before it was like, ‘let’s tell you how to be confident; now let’s see you act it out,” Ambrose said. “It was really nice to see them come up on stage and be themselves and have fun.”

Before closing with their high-spirited number “Get Up,” different VOICC members recited a line from the poem, “Dare to Be.”

Overall, attendees enjoyed the program.

Dare to Be model wears a smile as she walks down the runway. Photo Credit: Media One Productions
Dare to Be model wears a smile as she walks down the runway.
Photo Credit: Media One Productions

For UVI student Gary Papin, the program theme “Dare To Be” challenged individuals not to place limitations on themselves.

The last presentation that really impacted Papin was the speech given by Gregory Evans.

“He said that statistically, at least one male in this room might be going to jail. It was a surprising realization as to how many young men, or men in general are incarcerated. But in spite of that, he also said that if you were living a lifestyle that could lead to that outcome, it’s not too late to make a change, and that is a message that needs to be heard by the men who still have a chance,” Papin concluded.

“You are your own obstacle in this situation,” Papin said. “If you can overcome yourself, then there is no limit to what you can achieve.”

In addition to the overall message, Papin saw it play out in an interpretive dance during intermission.

“It was basically a girl dancing with mirrors around her and she’s basically trying to find out who she is and not be molded by the reflections of society and people and what-not,” said Papin.

Aside from audience members, choir participants found certain elements touching.

For 20-year-old national student exchange student, Shermaine Blake, Almonte’s spoken word performance was empowering.

“Her energy and heart was all in it,” Blake said.

In addition to Almonte’s presentation, Blake also enjoyed Liz Combie’s demonstration.

“Even for me, everything she had to say resonated with me,” Blake said. “How you value yourself is how the world will treat you. “I think that’s the strongest messages kids in middle school and high school really need to hear, internalize, and focus on.”

Lastly, VOICC offered to serve as big brothers and sisters to the children who attended and contact the children if they ever needed assistance with schoolwork.

The VOICC will be hosting their spring concert on Saturday, April 25.

Anyone wishing to receive more information about the event can call or email Josephine Thomas-Lewis at 690-5269 or voistx@myuvi.net.

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