By Gittel Evangelist
SCARSDALE—It promised to be a celebration filled with warmth and joy, and it did not disappoint. The halls of Hitchcock Presbyterian Church rang out with music and witnessing at Saturday evening’s Coffee House, an event the church sponsors each year to benefit the Youth Empowerment programs and Summer Overnight Leadership Camp of Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc.
Some 30 people attended this year’s joint showcase of talented youth from the church and RMM’s Youth Arts Group, which led the festivities.
YAG members took to the mic to talk about a large mural displayed behind them, called “Freedom of Voice.” Composed of a series of individual paintings, the mural addresses issues that have affected the teens, such as racial bias, sexual assault, war and violence, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and teacher favoritsm.
Coffee House by now has a long history. Organizers Rene Thiel, a senior fellow of RMM, and Diane Gismond, the organization’s former treasurer, started the event in 2007.
“This year, Coffee House is older than some of the members of YAG,” grinned the Rev. Richard Witt, Executive Director of RMM, in addressing the audience. Expressing RMM’s gratitude for the support of the Hitchcock community, he said, “Thank you for believing in us.”
Turning serious, Witt said, “I think all of us gathered here want to thrive and we work very hard to thrive, especially to help our children thrive by creating opportunities and creating pathways for them, and insisting that they practice on the piano for 18 million hours …. RMM is not satisfied to merely help our children survive. RMM wants to help our people thrive.”
By highlighting their many talents, the event showed just how well these young people are, in fact, thriving. Fifteen-year-old Maddox Thibault-Edmonds, on the conga, and YAG Coordinator Andres Chamorro, on guitar, opened the evening by playing Manu Chao’s “Clandestino.” Later, on piano, Maddox deftly improvised an etude centered around a scale in A-flat major, as the room fell pin-drop silent.
Brothers Nathaniel and Gabriel Yang of Hitchcock Church each performed complex classical piano pieces by Chopin and Beethoven, while Julie Mylanski and 8-year-old Xavy Johnson each showed off their vocal chops. Hitchcock Minister of Music John King led the audience in a lively rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” complete with hand chimes and, yes, marching.
YAG member Celeste Guevara, 18, swirling a vibrant Mexican folklorico skirt and wearing silk roses in her hair, danced to a traditional mariachi tune called “Son de la Negra.”
To end the evening, Maddox and Chamorro led a drumming circle, similar to those that end vespers at RMM’s overnight camp. As they kept a steady beat on the congas, Celeste called on audience members to share what the words “Hope, Justice and Empowerment” meant to them.
“Hope means possibility,” said Xavy’s grandmother.
“Justice means equality for everyone,” said 17-year-old YAG member Leslie Mora, in Spanish, as Celeste translated.
Gismond answered the call of Empowerment: “The courage to speak out against injustice,” she said.
It was a fitting way to end, as these young artists and musicians, and those they had just touched, sauntered out into the rainy evening to continue the fight.
Gittel Evangelist is Communications Coordinator for Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.