The Happiness Club honors Hamilton's Miguel Cervantes at lively benefit

I've been a fan of The Happiness Club ever since I first became aware of them through its longtime supporters, Maureen and Marc Schulman. This organization does such good in our communities, providing a safe and happy place for kids. From Bronzeville to Englewood to Glenview and as far as Algonquin, The Happiness Club represents all levels of income and ethnicities. And on Sunday, August 11 at Park West, all of their amazing talents were on full display during its signature fundraiser.

The dance portion of the evening opened with The Happiness Club kids performing "Make it Through." A lot of the songs and dances are created solely by the kids in reaction to what they're experiencing so it's cathartic as well as artistic.

I was a proud Legacy Award honoree along with Artist of the Year recipient Miguel Cervantes, who plays Alexander Hamilton in the Chicago production of Hamilton the Musical. (See his moving acceptance speech here). I couldn't have been in better company and to be able to see him rehearse and perform with the kids is a memory I'll always treasure. He is as kind as he is talented and it was a real privilege to be in the same room.

During his number with the kids, Miguel chose a mash-up of The Jackson 5's I Want You Back with The Schuyler Sisters. Miguel sang and played the guitar. I made my "hip hop" debut (YIKES, don't laugh!) with a Happiness Club original song, Shake That Stress Off. Also honored were students of the year, Dawn Butler, Amir Leonard and Levi Carroll and graduating high school seniors Quansaa Gordon and Aja Abron. 

The show was dedicated to Keith Harper, the Club's beloved sound engineer and artistic director Tanji Harper's father. Co chairs Maureen and Marc announced the debut of the Keith Harper Memorial Fund for Songwriting. As a music lover and accomplished musician, Keith understood the value of the arts in the lives of young people and was an avid supporter of The Happiness Club's mission to give kids a safe space to express themselves through the arts and have the opportunity to create original music, dance and rap that encourage positive values and social change.

A  tribute to the success of the program was apparent with over 30 alumni attending the benefit and performing the song Hate it Or Love It.  Among them was Kaina, a singer/songwriter who recently released her first album, Next To The Sun, and is currently on tour with the O'My's and in the fall with Cuco. 

 The evening included a silent auction and a Taste of Chicago buffet with food donated by Eli's Cheesecake, Lou Malnati's and Vienna Hot Dogs.

Funds raised, $50,000, will be used to support the programs of The Happiness Club, a year round free performing arts education program for kids ages 8-21, and an after school dance program for high school kids.

The Happiness Club keeps kids safe and increases their confidence and communication skills through the arts. The diversity within the group allows kids to meet and become great friends with peers they would otherwise never have met. Exposure to live theater, homework space and assistance with resumes, applying for college grants, scholarships, and auditions support the aim to focus on the overall development of each member.

The Happiness Club kids have performed at the White House and most recently, at all three days of Lolla. (Check out their next performance dates here!) (The good photos are by Steve Green, the rest are mine).

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