'Soul Space' Uses Music For Storytelling And Healing In State College
In a meeting room at the Unity Church in State College, a group of women gathered to rehearse the songs they’ll perform live on Friday night. These five women will use jazz, soul, R&B and hip-hop music to share their experiences as black women, sing through trauma, heal and have fun.
The idea behind Soul Space is to create a safe space for black women, by black women to tell their stories. Wideline Seraphin, one of the event organizers and performers, said in State College few of these spaces exist.
“It’s hard to find spaces just for people of color to express themselves,” Seraphin shared. “I think it’s important to make those spaces for ourselves just because we have very different realities. We all are experiencing Happy Valley, but we’re all experiencing it in different ways.”
Jessica Henry, a performer who has a background in counseling, believes Soul Space can promote healing.
“Soul Space is important because of mental health, emotional health. And music has always been a freeing space for a lot of people,” Henry said. “Music provides a release to people. And that’s why I feel like it is so imperative that we continue to create these types of spaces when they don’t exist kind of naturally.”
The women chose 11 songs to perform, ranging from classics like “At Last” to a mash-up of Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin.
One of the songs Henry will perform is India Arie’s “Ready for Love.” She chose this song because it speaks to her own experiences.
“It really just embodies the kind of developmental space that I’m at right now in my life,” Henry said. “With being in State College, you feel kind of isolated from opportunities to fall in love. And so that song just kind of sums it up, sums up to me what I need right now. And again, this Soul Space just provides that opportunity to release that.”
Soul Space is also part of a larger project called “Community Narratives in Focus.” Since 2014, Seraphin and her colleague Ana Díaz have been collecting narratives from members of marginalized communities about their experiences living in State College and Centre County. Díaz said she believes it’s important to understand how they experience and see themselves represented in this space before conversations about unity and inclusion can occur.
“Those experiences are the ones we want to bring to the center and to the focus of these conversations because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Díaz said. “And there’s a need to support those conversations, they cannot just be silenced or overseen by thinking about unity.”
After Soul Space, the performers will contribute their own narratives to the collection, speaking to how they use music as a medium to express themselves and share their experiences as women of color.
While the event is free, donations are encouraged to support The Cultural Experience, a predominantly black and Latino student group at the State College Area High School. By donating any proceeds to the group, the women involved in this project said they’re lifting up students of color who are also trying to create space for themselves and their experiences.
Seraphin hopes the event will ultimately bring people in the community together.
“What I want for the event is for people to open up,” Seraphin said. “That’s how we start to see each other, that’s how we start to humanize each other, is by opening up and being vulnerable and shouting and dancing and singing along. Whether on-key or off-key, we’re enjoying that moment together.”
Soul Space begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night at Webster’s Cafe in downtown State College. All are welcome.