October 14, 2015
When Black Violin played The Whiting last month, the venue saved a row of its cushy red seats for some of the area’s youngest string instrument enthusiasts. YouthQuest students – many of whom are or have been involved with the Sphinx Organization’s Overture program – were invited to attend the concert as well as a closed soundcheck on Sept. 25.
“This is the perfect example of the amazing opportunities that result from our community partnerships,” says Sharri Newman, Director of YouthQuest, an afterschool enrichment program administered by the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce. “Our contacts at Sphinx connected with our friends at The Whiting, and next thing we knew, we had 30 tickets for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
During the soundcheck, the elementary and middle school students took part in a Q&A with the classically trained duo. Layla Eubanks, a 7th grader at Holmes STEM Academy, asked the first question: “How long have you been playing?”
The answer: 20-plus years.
“I started in the fifth grade … and have been playing ever since,” said Kev Marcus, who plays alongside Wil Baptiste. “So many cool things have come from playing the violin (including a full scholarship to college and playing with Alicia Keyes on tour) that there was never a reason for me to put it down.”
Afterward, Eubanks said the evening reaffirmed her interest in the violin, which she’s been playing on and off since 4th grade. From listening to Marcus and Baptiste, she said she “learned you shouldn’t be scared to play what you want to play. You should trust your instincts.”
These types of experiences are key to the YouthQuest program, which partners with a variety of community organizations to provide students with cultural and educational enrichment, and skill-building activities.
Each school year, for instance, YouthQuest brings in the Sphinx Organization to offer its Overture program as an optional club. Students who participate in this program receive violin lessons throughout the year and a free violin, allowing them to practice at home. These youth are also eligible to receive scholarships and additional education through the Flint Institute of Music.
“As an individual program, we can only offer so much,” Newman said. “But by working with groups like Sphinx and institutions like The Whiting, we’re able to provide our youth with significant educational and cultural experiences.”
For more information about YouthQuest, which serves nearly 2,000 students in grades K-12 in Flint & Genesee, visit www.yquest.org.