Social Justice and Music: Heshima Moja Works With Students On the Island


Photo Courtesy by Duncan Reed ’18

(Video Courtesy by Duncan Reed ’18)

Three weeks ago, musician and social justice educator Heshima Moja visited the Island as a residential artist. On Tuesday, October 4, Heshima launched his workshop series with an enlightening talk to the faculty about handling racism in the Loomis community. Then, on Wednesday, he hosted a discussion about systemic oppression with Loomis students. Heshima insisted that one must not completely destroy the present system or sugarcoat history; one must simply learn from it and grow, while refraining from marginalizing or offending others.

“He used this really great visual element [to illustrate his point],” said Ms. Parada, the Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and an organizer of the discussion. “He compared [fighting systemic oppression] to building a house. If you tear down the old house completely and it starts to rain…well, then you’re stuck.”

Sydney Steward ’17, a senior who attended Mr. Heshima’s “self care” workshop on Thursday, said that she was enlightened by many cool and weird concepts in the activities. “He emphasized the fact that when you’re fighting so hard for something, you have to find time to breathe. With all those emotions in heated discussions, you usually lose sight of the positive aspects of the world and a clear mind,” said Sydney, “I walked out of the workshop feeling a lot less stressed. It’s cool to meet someone who just “gets” it.”

Besides his social justice workshops, Heshima engaged with music lovers on the Island through various programs sponsored by the Music Department. While his Latin jazz band, Ofrecimiento, delivered an incredible performance in Hubbard on Thursday night, Heshima worked with the Loomis Chaffee Chamber Singers on Friday on a piece called “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is widely known as the “black national anthem.”

“When Mr. Heshima asked us to scatter around the concert hall and sing our parts alone, I could feel the power of individual voices in the larger chorus of the civil rights movement, and empathize with these activists’ courage and despair,” said Lily Liu ’17, one of the Chamber Singers, who reflected on the exercise of having each singer stand alone, isolated from each other, and sing.

Observing the exercise, Mrs. Parada said, “Encouraging students to think about what it meant for these individuals to stand up and sing alone, even for those without that history or heritage, elevates [the piece] in terms of emotion and experience, and creates a much stronger feeling of empathy…That’s what makes a moment.” She praises Heshima for his ability to combine his personal experience, anecdotes, findings from hours of research with musical talent, eloquence, and passion, and devote them into educating and widening the perspectives of his audience.

“Heshima embodies some of the things that I feel are really crucial to bringing multiple perspectives into an issue, into the problem solving of that issue. When he brought his perspective into art and music, he really opens up windows to new ways of thinking,” concluded Mr. Parada.