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Empathy: Harmony Project experience

Every Wednesday at South High School, Harmony Project hosts an after-school choir program for our students. When first introduced to the organization, I thought it would be a fun program to help with after school as a City Year Corps member. However, the Harmony Project has come to mean so much more to me. It has united our students after a tough day at school. It has energized my fellow corps members after a draining day of academic pull outs and mentoring. Lastly, it has inspired us all to come together and to unite in the name of love, despite our differing zip codes, skin colors, sexual orientations, and political preferences.

Through the gift of music, the Harmony Project continually inspires our students to be better people. Each Wednesday, I watch my students, several of whom come from broken families, intense poverty, and learning disadvantages, become transformed through the power of music. I watch as my student, K, who is in my 2nd period math class of students who failed 9th grade math the first year, raises her hands and sings with her eyes closed, face lit up, and body swaying. I watch as a girl who has struggled with physically harming herself is brought to tears with the verses of “You Will Be Found”. I watch as D, the fearless and sassy leader of the Harmony Project, speaks words of wisdom into the lives of the students, who are, for once, quiet, attentive, and eager to soak up his motivation. “You are worth more,” he tells them each week. “Your situation, your problems, and your past mistakes do not define you.” I watch as the students of South High School and women at a local prison, also in a Harmony Project program, sing to each other over a Skype call. I fight the ball of emotion in the back of my throat as I gaze out at my students raising their hands into a heart shape to the imprisoned women, and as the women eagerly raise the symbol back in sweet solidarity. Finally, as a whole I step back each week and marvel at how the power of music, and a little bit of free pizza, transforms the students of South High.

I have been given the privilege of playing the violin with the Harmony Project band each Wednesday, as well as in their Us Concert at Nationwide Arena in front of 7,000+ people last month. This experience has humbled me more than words can say. To be able to add to the music that transforms our students is the greatest gift anyone could give me. It is a place where I feel as if I am living out my purpose in life. My soul aligns with the music, resonates with the joyful noises coming out of my students’ mouths, and brings me almost to tears week after week. The Harmony Project has given me a gift that I did not even ask for. The program softens my heart week after week, filling me with new energy to continue the hard, up-hill work that my fellow City Year corps members endure day in and day out.

If there was a single virtue that Harmony Project embodies, it would be empathy. Defined, empathy means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Without empathy, I cannot humble myself to understand what our students are going through. Without empathy, I cannot align myself with the same music that our students are aligning with. Without empathy, our students cannot Skype women in prison and have an open and honest conversation about life. Without empathy, there would be no Harmony Project. For an organization that brings together people from all walks of life across Columbus, Harmony Project is a visual example of empathy at work. I would challenge everyone to humble yourself enough so that you can become aligned with the struggles and successes of others. Open your heart and invite empathy in. Where there is empathy, there is honesty. Where there is honesty, there is open conversation. And where there is conversation, we can bridge social, racial, and economical divides to come together to make beautiful music.

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