by Jorge Ocampo
For each of us, there are a number of experiences and stories just waiting to be discovered. Some stories are the kind we want to hear about or have heard legends about. One example is the story of the underdogs surviving against all odds. In Chicago, Illinois rests an underdog story known by many. In this particular story, a group of musicians demonstrate that despite the neighborhood where they come from, they continue to do positive things. This is the Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Marimba Ensemble.
The group has history spanning two decades, and in those two decades were many groups of youth playing the Marimba, a xylophone like instrument with a deeper pitch. The Marimba Ensemble program was founded by former Holy Cross pastor Father Bruce Wellems. Fr. Bruce became a mentor to the youth of the ensemble in its early years. That leadership that Fr. Bruce showed them proved to be contagious because those same youth began mentoring new players. Those same new players would grow to become talented musicians and teach the new students. It is because of this cycle that the Marimba Ensemble plays for many events in the city of Chicago such as wedding receptions and fundraisers. The group has even traveled around the country ranging from the capitol of the nation to the high altitudes of Denver. Instead of keeping the money for personal use, the money is used to raise money for scholarships so the students of the Back of the Yards will have support in their dreams. The program certainly looks like a blessing on paper, but who exactly are these youth that perform?
The Back of the Yards neighborhood does not possess the safest reputation, but every mile of darkness is home to light. The youth of the ensemble today are applauded for their musical talents on stage. They get to feel like stars for performances, but they lead lives of other youth that live in the same neighborhood as they do. School is something very important that the youth care for. They were motivated that through hard work and perseverance, they can reach their dreams. School is not something that is a walk in the park for anyone because the difficult exams catch up, the amount of homework piles up, and the expectations on grades are pressuring. The youth are human beings, so they go through family problems that everyone goes through. Often times, youth in this position look for a getaway to escape from reality for just a bit. For these youth, that escape is music.
These youth came together as strangers with the same ambitions of playing for the Marimba Ensemble. Through all their time in the ensemble, they have developed a leadership hard to find in other youth their age. They started as “rookies” questioning themselves at their ability to become leaders, now they have grown into leaders and are helping new students. Some are still learning on what it means to be a leader, and those same ones are proud of themselves for not giving up. This leadership is what the world needs, and it rests in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in these young musicians.
The Marimba has done so much for these youth, and the youth have done so much for the marimba. That is the belief that runs in the minds of these musicians. The long songs that the youth learn helps them in school, and the music they produce helps bring joy to audiences who forget about their problems and clap for the music being created. The youth also shut down their problems. No problems exist when this family unites to play music. They are the youth of the Holy Cross/IHM Marimba Ensemble. They are the underdogs of life coming out of the Back of the Yards neighborhood. When asked what they would tell to people that know nothing of them, they would tell them simply “we are hope for the community.” They are hope for the world as well. I have witnessed all this as their teacher and can attest to their words. This is who we are.