The Healing Power of Music

Anthony Brewer

Listen to tracks from Shine.

Dealing with trauma is never easy, but it is even more difficult for youth who have not yet gained an understanding of what trauma is, or had the opportunity to talk openly about their own experiences. The key, says Pastor Alika Galloway, of North Minneapolis’ Kwanzaa Community Church, is to create a safe way for youth to express their feelings and talk about what they’ve been through. “It’s so important that they know that they are valued and that healing and hope are possible,” she explains.

In her role as a Pastor, and as a longtime member of the working group involved with the Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center’s (UROC) Trauma Recovery Project, Galloway knows a great deal about trauma. Namely, that people need to be engaged in their own healing process.

To help, UROC’s Trauma Recovery Project’s Youth Working Group, which Galloway is a part of, partnered with the Northside Achievement Zone and 21st Century Middle School Academy to create a way to bring youth together to help themselves and each other. One of the many positive outcomes of this partnership is a new CD called Shine. Now available on iTunes, Shine features four songs about the realities of trauma.

Twin Cities musician, Anthony Brewer, wrote and sang lead vocals on the four songs: Shine, Don’t Talk About It, Blessed Assurance and That’s Who You Are. Though his musical career has taken him around the country, Brewer grew up on the Northside and stills calls North Minneapolis home. Galloway asked him to get involved in the project when she heard a spoken word piece the youth wrote after doing some participatory action research as part of the Trauma Recovery Project.

“We asked the youth some questions, but it was ‘What do you know about trauma?’ that really got them to open up and begin telling their stories. They had trauma in their lives, but up until then, they didn’t have a name for it. It was just ‘I saw a guy get shot.’ Or, ‘I saw someone OD.’ It just started pouring out of them.”

Using what they’d learned, the youth came up with questions about trauma for younger students, and the answers they got became part of their research. At the end of the six-week project, four of the youth—Shanitra Phillips, Keirra Phillips, Delajuanta Moore and Markaian Matthews— wrote a spoken word piece as a way to tell the community how they felt. Galloway was so moved, she thought it should be recorded, so she contacted Brewer, who was happy to get involved.

“For me, this project was a way to give back,” says Brewer, who started singing as a toddler at the urging of his musician mom. “I remember coming up on the Northside and being in the same spot as those kids, seeing some of the things they’ve seen and having some of the same experiences. I wanted to give them something to hold onto.”

Local musician and producer, Broderick Williams, did some rap for the CD and worked alongside Brewer with the youth in and out of the studio. While the youth’s voices can be heard in the songs, Brewer also brought in a team of backup singers and musicians, some of them from Liberia, South Africa and other parts of the world. Galloway describes the youth’s response to being a part of the CD as “magical,” and Brewer is already on board for future musical collaborations. “The kids want their stories told,” he says. “They learned through the project how trauma is silenced, and  they want to say, ‘This is what has happened in my life.’”