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Paragon Project Empowers Teens Through Music

High School students at the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Career Center are using music to address issues in their own lives and in turn spark dialogue in their communities. 

Mike Foley reports.

It may be winter break for the Columbus district, but it’s a rehearsal day at the Fort Hayescampus for these students. Known as the Paragon Project, they write and record their own songs. They’re fine tuning their sound for a performance to celebrate the release of a 19-track CD titled Medicinal Music. Fort Hayes assistant principal Tony Anderson, one of the project’s producers, says the idea stemmed from his involvement as a kid in a self-esteem team in the late 80s that focused on drug prevention outreach. The Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program funded that effort and partners with Fort Hayes on the Paragon Project. Anderson says music helps the kids articulate concerns and thoughts about issues happening in their communities and their own lives.

“Music is the language of young people. This is how they communicate. This is where they get their ideas from. This is where they get their style from. Sometimes there are challenging conversations that adults aren’t able to have with teenagers. The music they create and perform, we want to be a resource. It’s inter-generational. We’ll perform things from their parents’ generation, but they’ll create stuff that’s new and sounds new. We want people in the community to pop the CD in and ask teenagers – what did you think about that? And that is a way to engage young people and have critical dialogue about some of the sensitive topics going through these young people’s minds. Things like bullying, depression, dealing with grief. There’s a song where a young lady talks about losing her grandmother, but in the process of knowing she’s going to pass and her last days with her.”

Delaney-Rose Ramsey has a song on the CD called White Swings.

“It deals with the topic of losing a loved one. It’s more of how you shouldn’t mourn too much but recount the good times you’ve had instead of being depressed about it. Think happy and enjoy the time that you had.”

Ivan Saez’s song is called Change.

“So we have to fit in society and not be different. We are put in a box of what we should do, what we should look like, sound like and how we should act. Change is about taking control of your life since it’s your life, you’re living it and it’s your truth. You just live your truth.”

Faith Pendleton’s piece is called Every Girl.

“It’s about body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin. We are born into a society that believes you have to look a certain way. You should stand in, but you should also fit out. But there’s no cookie cutter to create the perfect person. My entire life I’ve been told my hair isn’t beautiful, that my body isn’t beautiful, that if I just did this with my face I’d be different – even by my own family members. It’s coming to a realization that society doesn’t define who you are and who you should look like. Nobody decides that but you, and it’s up to you to make the decision of who you are and what you want to present yourself as.”

Mykesha Corbin’s song is I Won’t Stop.

“It’s me verbalizing that no matter how many people tell you that you can’t do this or you can’t be successful, it’s all up to know that if I say I can do it, I’m gonna do it.”

The Paragon Project musicians describe the experience of writing, recording and performing their own songs as a mixture of exhilaration and empowerment – a stepping stone to see what else they can do. They hope the music helps listeners, especially other teens, to realize they’re not alone in their feelings and the situations life brings. Members of the group will play Live From Studio A on Friday morning. The full group plays Friday evening at the Columbus Performing Arts Center. 

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.
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