A group portraying The Temptations performs Thursday at Montessori Academy at Henry C. Morton in Benton Harbor for the school’s Motown Review: The Influence of Music in African American History. The performers are, from left, Jamarion Lee, Kemonte Conley, Jordan Harvey, Jabari Lee and Mason Gulley
The following story by Louise Wrege was published in the August 14th issue of the Herald Palladium:
BENTON HARBOR – Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson – well, in a sense – were just a few of the personalities lighting up the stage Thursday at Montessori Academy at Henry C. Morton in Benton Harbor.
The were performing for the school’s Motown Review: The Influence of Music in African American History.
Organizer Bonita Mitchell said some of the children were nervous because it was their first time on stage.
“But guess what – they’re now addicted to the stage,” she told the audience of more than 200 before the performance.
The review not only showcased talent, but how much the students learned during the school’s five-week summer enrichment program. She said music and the arts were used to make the students want to attend summer school, where they not only researched the legendary music label founded in Detroit, but wrote about it.
“We worked on the history of Motown,” she said. “It’s all about making good choices and feeling good enough about yourself that you’re not going to let depression drive you and your behavior.”
And she said it worked. She said attendance during summer school was high.
Mitchell said she wants to empower the students to move beyond their environments.
“Write about how you’re feeling. Sing about how you’re feeling. We can start to advocate things that are really going to change the minds and the hearts of people,” she said.
She said the students need an outlet for their emotions.
“Most of these kids are dealing with so much pressure in their homes,” she said. “The stabilizer is being able to give them a tool or identify in them something they’re good at.”
Thursday’s performance included students from Morton Montessori and from the ISM Music & Entertainment Industry Academy. Mitchell founded I’m Saving Myself 15 years ago to give children a reason to abstain from risky behaviors. She said she opened the new academy the second week in July at the Benton Harbor Salvation Army.
“It’s going to highlight every area of the music industry. It’s going to nurture the talent,” she said. “… And it’s a family environment with singing and a recording studio and dance studio. We’re driving the content to strategically start to help people understand that we’re all going through something, but if we all can unite in love, it can change things.”
She said the students will be writing songs, producing music videos, making preproduction movies and learning radio skills at the academy.
Mitchell said the dance studio will be completed in October and the radio studio is slated to be done by the end of November.
This was the second Motown Review that Mitchell helped to put together in Benton Harbor this summer. The first one on Aug. 2 involved incoming freshmen at Benton Harbor High School.
She said both programs were paid for by School Improvement Grants that the district received from the state for the 2014-15 school year.
At a presentation before the Benton Harbor school board on Tuesday, high school social studies teacher Marilyn Ross-Golden said the Black History Committee at the high school was asked to put the program together.
“We took it very seriously because we know that our ninth graders coming to the high school are scared,” she said.
The students took part in four classes, cultural media, music appreciation, civil rights and cultural connections, said Elnora Gavin, the high school’s business management teacher.