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Students Showcase Their Talent with a Year-End Celebration at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater

Posted by Elwin Green on June 16, 2014 at 9:55 PM

By: Jose A. Diaz

 

On June 4, parents, students, and community partners gathered at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty in support of the YMCA Lighthouse Project’s End-of-Year Celebration. Lighthouse – an after-school program that educates and empowers high school youth through an integration of curriculum-based art and media projects, career exploration, and academic support – closed out the school year with a showcase of students’ varied and eclectic talents.


Walking into the lobby of the Kelly-Strayhorn that evening, the fruits of students’ hard work were palpable: images of Lighthouse students toiling in the vegetable garden at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA bookended the hallway; poster boards of recent trips to far-off places like Prague lined the display tables; and samples of homemade vegetable dip (made with fresh ingredients from the aforementioned garden) were distributed by excited students encouraging attendees to taste it. On sale were CDs of Lighthouse performances and t-shirts designed by students commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.


The celebration kicked off with an opening poem by Lighthouse participant (and Westinghouse valedictorian) Tracey Thomas, who compared Lighthouse to a family. “It is a place to build lasting connections… that forever bonds people with no prior relationship together,” she said. The female performers of hip-hop troupe State of Minds took the stage next with “Blue & Gold”, an ode to Westinghouse High School, before being joined by the full band for another song, “If You’re Feeling Me”.


Lighthouse’s snapshot photography crew then aired a moving montage, “Civil Rights of Passage”, a collection of photos that incorporated students and iconic photos from the Civil Rights Movement. Following that, Emoni Jones, from the Mixed Media Crew, delivered a moving piece entitled “Woman of Gentrification”, a cautionary tale about the importance of self-respect and acceptance in a world that offers so little of it.


One of the most innovative pieces came in the form of “Lighthouse News Network”, a mock news channel produced in the same vein as CNN and MSNBC. (A voiceover for the fictitious cable channel announced the network’s tagline: “LNN – Your guiding light, every night.") Preceded by a commercial and a promo, three news stories punctuated the broadcast. The first was a look at the 100th anniversary of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA and featured interviews with Homewood resident and historian John Brewer and Rick Williams, executive director of the Homewood Y. “If the community has thrived, the Y has thrived,” Mr. Brewer was quoted as saying.


The second segment, hosted by LNN reporters Latisha Giles and Alicia “Ace” Collins, was a roundtable of local musicians, including Jacquea Mae, Akil Esoon, and Gene Stovall, to find out what their musical influences are and what first inspired them to pursue music. The final segment was an exposé on the girls’ bathroom at Westinghouse High School. With camera in hand, reporter Latisha Giles shows the audience the conditions of the bathrooms: unclean floors, bathroom stalls with no locks, and missing mirrors. When Ms. Giles interviews a female student about what she typically sees in the bathroom, the student quips, “What don’t you see?”


Musical group The Ink sang an original song, “Aqua Lagoon,” before closing their set with a second number, “Not Done Yet”. James Brown, Lighthouse project director, appeared afterwards to present Leadership Awards to students and thanked the teaching artists who have been the “aunts and uncles of the Lighthouse family.” Phillip Thompson, Lighthouse project manager, commented that he was especially proud of the seniors in Lighthouse because he’d watched them grow and mature during their four years in the program and at Westinghouse. In recognition of their accomplishments, award recipients were also given notebook computers.


Rounding out the evening were performances by the Lighthouse Step Team and hip-hop group Blow Ya Mynd, who brought down the house with “Strayhorn’s Curtains” and “Lights On”, a music video shot in and around the Westinghouse campus that paid tribute to the school, to Lighthouse, and after-school programming.


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Located at Westinghouse High School in Homewood, Lighthouse is open to all high school teens living in the 15206 and 15208 zip codes and meets during the school year, Monday through Thursday, from 3:00 to 7:30 pm. For more information, contact the YMCA Lighthouse Project at (412) 436-0535 or lighthouse@ymcapgh.org.

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1 Comment

Reply Ebony Robinson
2:46 AM on July 13, 2014 
Great piece Mr. Diaz. Thanks for sharing. YMCA Lighthouse students have produced an incredible body of work in the arts, news and entertainment this year.

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