UPDATE. Since this post was written, Donnell wait-listed for a year, spent the winter in Boston and Philidelphia -- so we know he can hack the cold and snow -- and recieved a scholarship for tuition from the country of Grenada. Still needs a place to stay for the school year as Berklee doesn't offer scholarships to first year students. He has a place to land for a few weeks with cruisers who are currently tied to a dock in Boston, but their boat doesn't have a second stateroom and will get tight when the weather turns cold. This does give Donnell some breathing room and provides him with the opportunity to meet with people who may be able to offer him a room. Please use my email to contact Donnell -- firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your help.
Cruisers know what it means to work toward a dream, and many of us know the joy and struggle of helping our children achieve their own dreams. The cruisers in Grenada have had the opportunity to meet a young man with big dreams and the ability and opportunity to achieve them. Donnell Best is a young singer and violinist who has been accepted to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’s going to need some help to make that happen.
Early in the summer, Donnell had a fundraising concert at the Spice Basket in St. Georges, and a number of cruisers attended. They were taken with Donnell’s talents, and began to introduce him to the rest of us.
Donnell sat in with the Algy and the group for the First Friday Jazz and Poetry Jam at the Museum. He stood on stage and requested back-up from the drummer and bassist. “What do you want us to play?” they asked. “I’ll follow you,” he said. “So how about something in ‘G’?” the bass player replied as he started in. Donnell nodded and proceeded to blow us away.
Donnell also sat in with the cruisers at a jam session at Whisper Cove, ably joining in with songs he’d never heard before. As you can see in this video of Brown Eyed Girl, led by Chris from Troubadour, Donnell quickly got the hang of it.
A week later, Donnell pulled together a special concert at Secret Harbor Marina, where he was joined by his brothers and other young musicians who formed a band, perfected numbers, and entertained us for an evening.
There was a lot of buzz after that night. Cruisers recognized a dream, and talent and wanted to help Donnell – but there were also many rumors, and a concern that cruisers can’t provide the kind of funds he needs. We wanted to help – but we weren’t sure how. I decided to go to the source, Donnell’s violin teacher, Beth Wolfe, who graciously gave me a couple of hours of her time and told me a bit of her story and her dreams, and more about Donnell.
Donnell parents are farmers here in Grenada. They raised smart, ambitious, children and shared a love of music with them. Donnell embraced music and sought more. At the age of 14, he and two friends walked into Beth’s music school, Island Violin and asked her to teach them how to play. She laughingly calls them the “Three Musketeers”. Donnell excelled from the beginning. Now, six years later, he works with Beth and teaches and mentors the younger students. He also has a vocal teacher on the island. Along the way, he earned an Associates’ degree in science at the local college. Donnell’s parents wanted him to go on to attend the medical school here in Grenada, and he could have done so, but his dream is make a living with his music, and then to give back to Grenada.
When a student applies for a performance curriculum, he or she must participate in the normal college application process and must also audition in his or her talents. Donnell applied late in the year and auditioned in Philadelphia in January, and was accepted to study both vocal and violin. His married sister lives in Philadelphia, making it easier and cheaper for him to meet with representatives from Berklee when they traveled to that city. Unfortunately, the late audition meant that he was not eligible for scholarships for the fall semester of 2012. On the plus side, enough credits (24) from Donnell’s two year degree will be accepted by Berklee to allow Donnell to graduate in only three years.
Tuition at Berklee is $30,000 a year. The U.S. Government estimates that his living expenses will be $33,000 in addition to the tuition. ($30,000 for expenses and $3000 for the mandatory laptop he must purchase through the school prior to attending.) That’s important because US immigration policy requires foreign students to have the funds for the full year before they start school. The cruisers’ grapevine at first thought that Donnell needed $90,000, expenses plus $30,000. That’s wrong. He needs $63,000 – for the first year and that can include in- kind contributions, such as room and board. His sister and her husband have pledged to pay for Donnell’s food during his three years at Berklee.
Beth and others are talking with ministers from the government of Grenada, asking them for help with his expenses. Donnell has decided to defer his acceptance until the spring term, giving him more time to raise the funds, and will most likely audition a second time in Boston in order to seek scholarships from the school. He can also take two courses on-line and will complete them over the next few months. Many of the funds raised so far have gone to application fees, fees to defer until the spring, fees for the two classes, and travel costs. There is a major-fund raising concert planned for early autumn.
But more needs to be done. So, what can the cruisers do?
- Help him find a place to live, close to Berklee. Those of us who have met Donnell have been tremendously impressed with his sense of humor, work ethic, personality, and drive. I urge anyone who knows a family in Boston who has room and who would enjoy hosting this unique exchange student to get to know Donnell and to contact that family in Boston. Donnell will visit the area later this year and can meet with prospective hosts. His sister and brother-in-law will contribute for his food. We who’ve met him would like to see him welcomed in a home that can assist him in learning how to negotiate a large city in the U.S. This is going to be quite a change. He’s independent and strong and determined, but he’s also a young man grounded by his family. He doesn’t need new parents, but would, I think, welcome and respect new mentors.
- Fundraise – with flair and power. Face it, most of us don’t have large disposable incomes. We’ve sold our homes to enjoy this lifestyle. Heck, most of us are spending our children’s inheritance. So, who do you know? Who can you think of who might want to contribute to Donnell’s education fund. Better yet? Do you know anyone who might want to start a scholarship fund for outstanding students in Grenada or the Caribbean? It occurred to me that there are a number of successful entertainers from this region. I’d love to convince them to start a scholarship to help others succeed. I even went so far as to trade one jar of EW’s super chunky peanut butter for research regarding entertainers from the Caribbean. Josh, one of two brothers sailing with their parents aboard s/v Liberty, did a great job. After hearing Donnell’s concert at Secret Harbor Josh expanded the search to include those who play electric violin. He immediately dinghied to the boat to deliver the list and to acquire the jar of peanut butter. I’ve included the list at the end of this post.
- Spread the word. This is going out on my blog – with a push on the various cruisers’ Facebook pages. Feel free to copy/paraphrase/link this to your blog and Facebook pages. Plagiarize me. Help us get the word out about Donnell, who one person called “Granada’s Kirani James of the arts”. (Kirani earned Grenada's first Olympic Gold Medal when we won the 400 meter run at the 2012 Olympics.)
- Use your contacts. One lady who attended the Secret Harbor concert has a relative who works in a private school helping students through their college application process. She’s offered to contact him to help Beth and Donnell reach the right people and take the right steps in seeking a scholarship at Berklee. Who do you know who can help?
- Use your networking/creative thinking skills. It occurred to Beth and me, that there are many more wealthy people who vacation in Grenada in the winter. (Go figure.) That’s when big yachts, cruise ships, and winter only sailors show up at Port Louis, stay in the resorts, or arrive on cruise ships. Heck, someone said that Mick Jagger once rented the entire La Luna resort. How can we tap into that for Donnell? Also – for those of you not cruising who are reading this post. Who do you know? Do you know someone on the list below? Do you know someone who has an interest in music and the Caribbean?
Why? Why are we doing this? Why would you want to help? Why are many of us determined to see Donnell attend Berklee in January of 2013?
First of all, EW and I were blown away by his talent and by his manner. He’s simply a lovely young man. (One who would hate being called “lovely”.)
It’s also one way of giving back to this marvelous country. We didn’t volunteer with the reading program last year. (I’m just not that patient.) Nor have we volunteered at the local animal shelter. (I’d hate to leave the puppies there.) I believe that helping an outstanding, hard-working student will help others set goals and can perhaps be a springboard to establishing scholarships for other students in the future. Like many Caribbean countries, this one is struggling. Young men, in particular, are not excelling in school. Recent newspaper articles expressed concern that there are few career jobs for the 800 recent graduates from the local college. Here’s a young man who has beaten the odds, who has nurtured and expanded his talents, who soaks up knowledge like a sponge, and who has continued to uphold his family’s values
We’d like to see him achieve his dreams. How can you help? Who do you know with a home in Boston? Do you know someone who knows someone on Josh’s List?
Josh’s List (It’s a good one. Definitely worth the jar of peanut butter.)
Modern Popular Artists from the Caribbean
Sean Kingston, Jamaica
Wyclef Jean, Haiti
Nicki Manaj, Trinidad
Ricky Martin, Puerto Rico
Others Who Might Be Able to Support Donnell (Josh said that most of these play electric violins.)
Soozie Tyrell, Violinist for Bruce Springsteen
Mark Wood, Violinist (Heavy Metal, Julliard trained)
David Garret, Violinist (Australian, played on “Dancing with the Stars”)
Linzie Stoppard and Benn Lee, Violinists with the band Fuse
Natalie Stovall, Violinst (Grad of Berklee, plays rock ‘n roll)
You can see why I needed help with this list. "Modern" evidently means folks I don't know. I had heard of Nicky Minaj, but totally messed up her last name when I was talking Josh into this assignment. He laughed at me. Nick, another cruiser who is my age, surprised me by informing me that Nicki's name is pronounced just like "menage a trois". I'll never get it wrong again.