The Global Prep Academy at Riverside 44 (GPA) Choir recently had a Black History Month celebration gig at the Indiana Historical Society as part of the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) 43rd Black Heritage Ceremony. And the choir’s 25 students in grades 2-5 knocked it out of the park!
During the event, legendary journalist Gwen Ifill (1955-2016) was honored and her Black HeritageⓇ Forever Stamp was revealed. But in a packed room, it was the harmony of 25 little voices that left the biggest impact, at least according to one of their biggest fans, GPA Choir Director & Music Teacher Mr. Mark A. Peay.
Seemingly unshaken by the large, diverse crowd that included community leaders, local residents and more, the GPA choir sang beautifully and even recited a poem. It was powerful. It was magical. And it almost didn’t happen.
Unexpectedly, on the same day as the performance, nearly 100 school bus drivers and monitors called off work. As a result, many children were unable to attend school; this was the case for some GPA students and choir members. However, as Mark A. Peay puts it, they “were going to make sure the kids got to experience this.” Peay continued, “Just like Gwen Ifill persevered against all odds to make her dreams for success come true, our GPA kids, under the leadership of principal Mariama Shaheed, persevered today against all odds to make sure this opportunity to perform came to fruition for the kids.”
On Friday morning, GPA Founder and Principal Mariama Shaheed diligently worked with her staff and USPS to ensure every member of the student choir had transportation. It was an all-hands-in effort. Some staff volunteered to transport children, some coordinated carpools, and some researched possible resources, all while others called, emailed, and Facebooked personal connections for help. A few people even reached out to their community church about using a church van to transport children. In the end, all 25 of the choir students made it.
“I am excited for our children and I hope they understand that what they do matters. And what they do in school is only a small part of what they can do in life,” Shaheed said.
“No one could have foreseen the school bus transportation issue that presented itself, but as always, determination and dedication won the day. It was important for them [the students] to be a part of this. For them to see that someone is being celebrated for their life work, and to the point where they are being placed on a stamp, that’s special. They witnessed and participated in history,” Peay said.
During the ceremony, the choir performed “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo from the Harriet soundtrack, and “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa, Ft. TobyMac and Kirk Franklin. They also presented Andria Thompson’s poem “My Black is Beautiful”.
“The children were absolutely amazing,” said USPS – Indianapolis’ Michelle L. Smith. “My co-workers are still talking about their performance and their big personalities. I’m so happy that the community came together to help showcase their talent.” Smith learned of GPA’s choir from her colleague and USPS Postmaster Christi Johnson-Kennedy, who, after seeing the choir perform at another event, recommended them.
“Our goal is to prepare our children, and putting these kids in front of different types of audiences and audience sizes exposes them to opportunities, but it also prepares them for life outside of class,” Shaheed said. “It sets them up to develop strong presenting and leadership skills.”
“If we’re gonna fight
Let’s fight for each other
If we’re gonna shout
Let love be the cry”
“Si hemos de pelear
Luchemos uno por el otro
Si hemos de gritar
Que el alarido sea de amor”
About Global Preparatory Academy at Riverside 44
Global Preparatory Academy at Riverside 44 is an IPS Innovation Network School that serves students in pre-K through 6th grade. Opened in 2016 under the leadership of Mariama Shaheed, a former Fellow with The Mind Trust, GPA is located in the Riverside neighborhood on the west side of Indianapolis. The school implements a dual-language environment and curricula to grow students’ proficiency in both English and Spanish.