I met Aaron-Michael Rines three years ago while I was still a music major. The choir he tours with had visited Nyack College New York City campus, and he was one of the students chosen to perform a solo. Now, it was obvious that all Aaron-Michael’s peers were extremely gifted, but when he began to sing, I felt as if his voice were capturing and expelling every century of pain, hope, and suppression journaled in the Negro Spirituals he performed. I cried, not just because of the beauty of Aaron-Michael’s voice, but because I had never heard or felt such great emotion expressed by someone so young. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be his friend.
Aaron-Michael is now twenty-two years old, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching him mature into the man he is today. He is always so composed under the pressure of being a vocal performance major and business minor and continues to inspire me, not just with his voice, but with his ability to endure.
“What’s it like where you’re from,” I ask wanting to get a closer look at the environment that has made Aaron-Michael hardworking and kind hearted. He tells me that he is from Hempstead, NY.
Hempstead is a town where turning on the wrong corner can end in trouble or tragedy. He describes the different types of people and drugs that he must maneuver through to get to the bodega, and I think about the year I spent in one of the worst parts of Newark, NJ. I waited for my lease to end and moved back to New York with furious impatience. Aaron-Michael is not me, though. He is in no rush to leave his town because he understands that by being high school graduates and college students, he and his friends are patiently reworking what success looks like in Hempstead.
“My high school has a thirty-three percent graduation rate. It’s horrible. But of those who do [graduate], seventy-five percent are African-American.” We take the time to break down this statistic, and while we commend the students that do graduate, we mourn the many children that get left behind because of language barriers that make it difficult for teachers and students to communicate. Aaron-Michael believes the reasons he and so many of his peers successfully graduated and went on to four-year colleges is because each student looked past their differences, and encouraged one another. “We’re actually friends with each other. My class, we held each other’s backs. No matter the nationality or your background, whether you lived on the ‘good’ side of town or the ‘bad’ side of town we helped each other out.”
Aaron-Michael knows his degree from Nyack College will give him the options of being a professional performer or personal business owner. He is open to the many directions his career can take him. One of the ways Aaron-Michael is preparing for his future is by being a part of this semester’s Opera Theatre Workshop where he is playing the lead role of the Lion in this year’s school musical: The Wiz.
The role of the Lion, to me, means that you have to find courage and you have to look into yourself for that. Especially, if you are of Christian faith. A lot of times we tend to look to other people, but the Word says that you have to know Christ for yourself and you have to have a relationship with Him for yourself.
Aaron-Michael expresses gratitude to Nyack College in producing The Wiz during these socially tense times. His desire is to see this play “shed light on the struggles that many African-Americans face, and we do it properly. With intent.”
Aaron-Michael was introduced to Nyack College through his high school music teacher Rachel Blackburn. He had visited our college a few times and was familiar with the friendly environment, so when he found himself unhappy at his previous school he knew Nyack was the place he wanted to complete his degree. Aaron-Michael believes Nyack is special because of the community. “It’s more so the community. The people that I’ve met here are amazing, and I just really want people to understand that no matter what, we come here for an education and we all make each other feel more than welcome.”