February 8, 2022

MSM Spotlight: Meet the leaders of MSM’s Black Student Union

The Black History Month Concert on Wednesday, FEB 9 at 7:30 PM in Neidorff-Karpati Hall is presented by MSM’s Black Student Union.

Meet the student leaders of the BSU Jaydon Beleford (BM ’23), Chira Bell (BM ’22), and Adja Thomas (BM ’22).

Chira, Adja, and Jaydon talk about MSM’s Black Student Union, their upcoming concert, and why BSU is important. 

  • Chira Bell (BM '22)

    President and Concert Coordinator: Originally from Winchester, Virginia, Chira is a senior classical voice major at MSM studying under the tutelage of Catherine Malfitano.

  • Adja Thomas (BM '22)

    President: Originally from Long Island, New York, Adja is a senior classical voice major at MSM studying under the tutelage of Ruth Golden.

  • Jaydon Beleford (BM '23)

    Vice President and Social Media Coordinator: Originally from Seattle, Washington, Jaydon is a junior classical voice major at MSM studying under the tutelage of Maitland Peters.

  • Damien Sneed

    Facutly Advisor, MSM Jazz Arts

Tell us about the BSU!

Adja: The purpose of the Black Student Union is to provide a sense of unity, support, and cooperation among the Black students at Manhattan School of Music. This year, we hope to collaborate with other BIPOC organizations outside of school.

Jaydon: The BSU is more than just a club or student organization. At MSM, the BSU is designed and promoted to be a solace and safe place for all Black Persons of Color. Our mission is to provide a space where we can laugh, speak, learn, and grow together — not just as students at a school, but as a family.

Chira: Black Student Unions are essential to all Predominantly White Institutions or PWI’s. I believe they are even more influential and undoubtedly important in institutions like MSM, institutions dealing with fields that have a particularly sensitive history of discrimination against all minorities. Creating a space for community can be vital to a Black student’s sense of belonging and their ability to advocate for themselves and others within an industry that has a history of pushing against them. MSM and other PWI’s commitment to supporting the Black Student Union, here and everywhere, is the bare minimum in supporting diversity on college campuses.

What can you tell us about the Black History Month Concert, FEB 9?

Jaydon: MSM’s Black History Month Concert is young Black excellence at its finest and is truly much more important than anyone would believe. It is the one time where Black students of color can merge majors, take on artistic directorial duties, and create art that celebrates the brilliance of Black artistry. It is important we give our appreciation to those who have fought so hard for we young Black musicians to be where we are now. It’s empowering, exciting, but most importantly, it’s put on by us. 

Adja: This concert is a celebration of Black talent, education, and creativity. We are featuring performers from the Reaching For the Arts Organization which serves mostly Black and Brown children in New York City and provides them the opportunity to excel in the visual and performing arts.

2020 Black History Month Concert

“As a mixed-race individual, the MSM Black Student Union is the space that fostered my connection with a larger Black Community. This space empowered me to have a voice to advocate for and to amplify my family in powerful ways.”

How do you personally connect to the BSU? Why is it important to you?   

Adja: Having an organization where we can teach others the importance of our history is something that is very important to me.

Jaydon: The BSU connects to me in a very specific way. The Black Community at MSM is not very large. I am the only Black person of color in my classical voice class of 2023. Upon my arrival in 2019, I was approached by another student who invited me to the first meeting of the Black Student Union. Instantly, I was struck with a sense of belonging. I was hit with a sense of “we see you, and you are not alone.” It’s important that this Union is here. It’s a place where I can talk with other Black opera singers who aren’t in my specific grade year, a place where I can meet other Black students of color across all majors, and, most importantly, it’s a place where I can actually remove the shackles of the world around me to just breathe and exist with people who look like me and who understand each other.

Chira: As a mixed-race individual, the MSM Black Student Union is the space that fostered my connection with a larger Black community. This space empowered me to have a voice to advocate for and to amplify my family in powerful ways. Over my four years at MSM, through communities such as this one and world experience, I have fostered a deeper connection with myself as a Black person.”

“Upon my arrival in 2019, I was approached by another student who invited me to the first meeting of the Black Student Union. Instantly, I was struck with a sense of belonging. I was hit with a sense of ‘we see you, and you are not alone.'”

Adja Thomas (Right, BM '22) with Subiya Mboya (Left, BM '22) during the 2019 Black History Month Concert

“Having an organization where we can teach others the importance of our history is something that is very important to me.”

What is important for the MSM Community to know about the BSU?

Jaydon: The importance of recognizing the Manhattan School of Music Black Student Union cannot be fully explained in one short paragraph. It is necessary for us to be here. Too many times Black persons of color find themselves in an environment that isn’t specifically made for us to thrive in. Yes, all students put in their greatest amounts of work, time, and dedication into their studies, but the course curriculum is not as diversified nor brought up to the standards of today’s “woke” society. We praise the music of Verdi, Bach, and even Hammerstein, but if you ask a group of students “who was Undine Smith Moore?”, chances are they would have no idea who she was. She was a prestigious 20th-century composer and Pulitzer Prize-nominated music educator, commonly known amongst her peers as, ‘the Dean of Black Women Composers.’ We do so much more than just sit and discuss our daily lives; we learn and inspire ourselves. To truly recognize the Manhattan School of Music Black Student Union is to do more than just acknowledge our existence. It’s to not only make efforts, but to ensure that our names, history, achievements, works, and more are both taught and accepted. Only from there can we begin the process of true recognition.

Chira: This community has been through so much and has potential to grow exponentially over the next five years if there is a continued effort in and outside the School to support and uplift leadership of Black people. It is important for the MSM Community and others to understand that the work in community engagement is far from meaningless, and the continued development of the Black Community is essential to the forward movement of not only MSM but the entire performance industry.

What legacy would you like to leave for future BSU Members?

Jaydon: The Manhattan School of Music Black Student Union legacy is what we make it. It’s made by the students. It should leave a legacy of inspiration and encouragement. Competition in the music industry is intense, and it’s a lot of pressure to go out into the world and to display your gifts and training for everyone to see. For all Black musicians of color coming to Manhattan School of Music to grow in their craft, it should be expected and required that the BSU is a safe space for encouragement, growth, and celebration.

Chira: If I could leave any legacy with MSM and with the MSM BSU it is that the opportunities for Black advancement in performing arts are ripe and active NOW! The opportunities are there, and there is room for you to pursue yourself and your community as you pursue music.

What would you like to tell students who are interested in joining BSU?

Jaydon: Join! It’s an excellent way to add your name to our ever-talented community of Black artists, and is also a great networking experience! Through the powerful networking of the BSU, I have worked with Grammy-award winners such as J’Nai Bridges [BM ’09], I have met with leaders from other prestigious music organizations such as the Sphinx Organization, performed in paid solo and album recordings with friends and past MSM alums, and so much more! Trust me, joining the BSU is a true adventure!

Adja: We are always looking for new members; anyone that is interested in joining should follow our official Instagram account @MSM_BSU !

Jaydon Beleford (BM '23), Junior Opera Theatre 2021

Adja Thomas (BM '22), Sophomore Opera Theatre 2019

Chira Bell (BM '22), Sophomore Opera Theatre 2019

Black History Month Concert 2020

Black History Month Concert 2019

Black History Month Concert 2019

Black History Month Concert 2020

Black History Month Concert 2019

Black History Month Concert 2020

Black History Month Concert 2019

Black History Month Concert 2019

Black History Month Concert 2020

Black History Month Concert 2020

Black History Month Concert 2019


Please note: Audiences are welcome to attend MSM performances in person.

Presentation of proof of vaccination and i.d. is required. Masks must be worn at all times inside the MSM building.


Celebrating Black History Month at Manhattan School of Music:
Black Student Union Concert

FEB 9 | WED
7:30 PM

Jaydon Beleford (BM ’23), Emcee

Featuring works by Angela Davis, Duke Ellington, Stefon Harris, Albert King, Donny Hathaway, and More!

Members of MSM’s Black Student Union
Reaching for the Arts Organization 

 

This concert is dedicated to Sharon Daley-Johnson and all of the black educators that have inspired many to pursue music professionally. 

 

Manhattan School of Music
Neidorff-Karpati Hall
130 Claremont Ave
New York, NY 10027