NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, U.S.A.— A recent benefit concert for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, a charity that helps refugees settle in the United States, brought together people from around the world to celebrate America’s freedom.
Wesleyan music professor Neely Bruce conducted his composition honoring the Bill of Rights in the hyper-modern auditorium at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School to help raise money for IRIS, an organization that has assisted refugees to settle in the greater New Haven area since 1982.
“The word needs to get out. We need to celebrate this program,” said Chris George, the executive director of IRIS.
George said that Bruce’s “The Bill of Rights: Ten Amendments in Eight Motets” was a perfect fit for IRIS, as the group often deals with “refugees deprived of their rights.”
George said he loved “the creativity, the daring and the social action” shown by Bruce.
Following the concert, Bruce said that he was “very pleased” with the performance.
“We’re all alive,” he joked.
“It’s all been rehearsed in bits and pieces,” said Bruce, so he wasn’t sure it would come together well.
But come together it did.
“It was very good,” said Tom Belviso, one concertgoer. The piece is an “interesting concept, seems to be something you could work with,” he said.
Belviso said he thought Bruce’s musical tribute to the Bill of Rights could be effective in helping high school students learn about the Constitution, which was the composer’s original intention.
“I loved being a part of it,” said Mira Reym Binford, who read part of the First Amendment. “It was wonderful to immerse myself in the Bill of Rights.”
Binford, a communications professor at Quinnipiac University, was a refugee herself. She survived the Holocaust in Poland and came to America at the age of 11.
Wengel Kifle, 13, said IRIS has done a lot for her.
“I am a part of IRIS,” Kifle said. “My mom took me here to get better opportunities.”
Kifle moved to America at the age of seven from Ethiopia. While she said America has a lot to offer, “our family keeps grounded in our culture.”
Ailia Rohbar, a 12-year-old from Afghanistan who now lives in Connecticut, said her family, too, got help from IRIS to come to the United States.
When she was young in Afghanistan, during the last years of Taliban rule, people were never outdoors and there were hardly any cars.
“In America, everybody’s outside and in cars,” Rohbar said.
Plus, she said, “You can go vote and everything.”
Kiernan Majerus-Collins is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.