I stood in my parent’s entry way with tall ceiling and sang at the top of my lungs in all my glory, “A whole new world” from the newly released Aladdin movie.
I would turn around in a slow circle, arms open wide, an 8-year-old singing extraordinaire!
My mom thought I was a majestic unicorn and felt I had real talent (as all wonderful parents do!). She did the next logical step and took me to our catholic school music teacher, a tall man who looked like a lanky camel with the biggest mouth I had ever seen. Of course, upon the meeting I was nervous with thoughts going through my mind,
“Do I actually have any talent?!” and “I love to sing…I hope mom isn’t wrong about my voice.”
You see, I struggled with a lot of things as a child. I labored in school and never learned to read until the 4th grade. I felt like a failure a lot and was often very embarrassed of myself.
This felt like my moment. My time to SHINE.
I stood there in his little home office, nervous but ready to sing my heart out to mom and Mr. R! When I finished baring my soul and my little voice, it was obvious he was underwhelmed. I could tell he thought I was mediocre at best. I felt crushed.
I never sang in front anyone again…until BJ.
In middle school, my mom found a music teacher, BJ to come to the house. She wanted my sisters and I to learn piano.
Let me paint you a picture of BJ. Betsy Jo (BJ) was a short elder woman in her 70’ with short brown hair, slight hips and big bust. BJ had a distinct uniform, a brown leather jacket with a white button up shirt with the collar popped! She wore a pair of jeans with brown penny loafer. She was stylish in her own right! BJ was a smoker and had a gravely rasp to her voice and the best cackling laugh. She used to be a rather famous singer, but she had lost her voice (I think from the cigs but she never confessed). She was the most extraordinary piano player! BJ was like an old cat lady but instead of the cat, she had a huge bunny, who was even potty trained. She was a true character.
I started plunking along on the piano with her, until mom told her about my voice. I was hesitant to be vulnerable again and sing in front of anyone, but I had come to trust BJ.
BJ and I had a special relationship. She was the first adult to really talk to me about life. She would share with me about her struggle with depression and her loneliness. We often connected and shared real talk in a way that felt soul filling for both of us despite our huge age gap.
When I began to sing for BJ, she loved my sweet voice. She would praise me, “Stephanie, no one sings with their heart like you do!” Her complements quenched my thirsty heart.
She introduced me to classical music like Les miserable, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon. She would often say some of these songs were too old for me.
However, I had no clue some were about prostitution, until I insisted my very catholic grandparents take my cousin and I to see the play Miss Saigon on vacation in Ireland. Lord help me, to this day that may have been one of my most embarrassing moments!
BJ holds such a special place in my heart. She was someone who believed in me beyond my mom. She really saw me. I am so grateful to my relationship with BJ and for her opening my heart to music again, even if I’m not the next Adele. She showed me how crucial it is for young people to have mentorship, self-expression and to see that special spark with in each of us. She is a big part of the inspiration for The SHINE Program.
BJ is one of my guardian angels, looking over me from above. When I sit here and write this to you, I can still feel her slight arm wrapped around my waist, looking up at me from the piano bench, as I stood behind her to sing.