J2J Day 14: Gospel for Teens in Harlem

Vy Higginsen

 Be proud of the fact that you are survivors. . .It’s victorious.

Vy Higginsen

Gospel for Teens was on 60 Minutes on Sunday evening.  Vy Higginsen, a New York radio personality and producer, created the group to save gospel music.  In the process, the music saved the teens ~ many of whom are survivors of violence.

Before the teens start their singing classes, Ms. Higginsen asks them to shake their hands.  It is a physical way for them to jettison the excess baggage of their lives:

Any worry, any pain, any problem with your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, the dog, the boyfriend.  I want that out now of your consciousness.  That’s your baggage. Leave the bags outside, because this time is for you.

When the teens’ faces break out in smiles, the class begins.

Libby Roderick

How Could Anyone?

Gospel for Teens’ theme song is “How Could Anyone” by Libby Roderick from Alaska.  The lyrics are amazingly powerful:

How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul?

Ms. Higginsen chose this song because:

That song is designed to empower you and to think about yourself differently than you think somebody else may have thought about you, to change your mind.

And, it did.  One teen confided in Ms. Higginsen that her mother didn’t want to hear her sing.  Ms. Higginsen’s faith in her, however, caused her to see herself as beautiful.  This is the power of an enlightened witness ~ one of Alice Miller’s central tenets for abuse recovery.  This is when Ms. Higginsen realized that gospel music empowers the teens.  She also realized that saving the music and saving the teens go hand in hand:

My God.  We had no idea what it meant to her.  It’s a big lesson for me, because if I had only looked at her surface, that judgment, it’s so quick to dismiss.  Out.  I don’t like your attitude.

They are struggling.  We live in a violent society.  So now what do you do with all that?

How do you get it off of you?  How do you live?  You have to go somewhere where there’s sacred ground, where there’s hope, where there’s possibility, where there’s a better life.

Joy.  That’s what’s inside my heart all the time when I’m in here.

– Yolanda Howard

Gospel Music Was Created to Be an Antidote to the Oppression of Slavery

Throughout history, oppressed people ~ people who were compelled to survive horrific tyranny ~ found freedom in creative outlets and faith.  Fairy tales, for example, were created to thwart religious oppression.  Gospel music kept faith and joy alive for slaves.  Ms. Higginsen explains this path to empowerment to her students:

I tell them that the first right as African-Americans in this country was the right to sing.  That was allowed during slavery.  Before reading, writing, school, church, we could sing.

Whether their parents show up or not for concerts, the music empowers the teens:

I can only think that they do it anyway.  With or without their parents, they do it anyway.  So what does that say about who they are their commitment, their resilience, their drive.  All of those things are necessary for success.

They’re survivors.  Stand up, stand up and let people see you.  Be proud of the fact that you are survivors. . .It’s victorious.

You can learn more by visiting the Mama Foundation for the Arts which was founded by Vy Higginsen.


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