STORY #20 – The Melody Lingers On

Fly By Light Retreat of 2015, the largest in OCU’s history. Kimberley (far right, middle), Marcus (center, middle)

In early 2015, a colleague invited me to see “Fly By Light,” a new film premiering at a local community spot in Washington, DC. Once I saw the movie trailer, I jumped at the opportunity to see it. The movie, produced by One Common Unity, was genuinely inspirational (see Story #1), and at that moment, I knew I wanted to be a part of the organization somehow.

After the screening, Hawah Kasat of One Common Unity and beloved DC filmmaker Ellie Walton hosted a Q&A. Hawah announced that OCU was looking for artist facilitators to work with high school youth in the upcoming school year. Having been a Secondary Education teacher before I became a filmmaker, I immediately knew this was meant for me and I was being called to do it. After applying and interviewing, OCU asked if I was willing to participate in the summer retreat, and of course, I said, “Yes!”

To say I delved into a new world is an understatement. This particular retreat was the largest one to date, with around 80 attendees, including 40+ youth and dozens of staff and crew members. And yet I knew no one, and no one knew me. Still, I quickly found myself surrounded by the most amazing people (artists, healers, and peace educators) doing incredible work at the retreat. Even with my assignment as one of the dorm-room moms, I knew I had landed in the right place. Although I’m a filmmaker, ironically, I went to the retreat without the intention or invitation to make a film. Instead, I came equipped with other essentials: colorful scarves, incense, and my guitar. My co-dorm room facilitator, Anjali Sunita, and I immediately hit it off. We played guitar, sang songs—and tried to endear ourselves to our assigned cohort of teenage girls from the city.

Once the retreat commenced and I got my bearings, I noticed a small film crew following around a young man named Marcus. He was there as a guest artist facilitator. I saw the filmmaker, Kristin Adair, keeping her camera on Marcus nonstop while a young woman from India, Yasheswi Desai, assisted with sound. It piqued my interest, but I didn’t interfere with their work; after all, I was there to fulfill a much different role. However, one of the days, we all had to carpool to the big hike, and I got to ride with Marcus. He asked whether he could play a song for us, which he had written for OCU called UNITY.

During this ride, I found out that in the early 2000s, Marcus had gone through OCU’s Revel Youth Shine program. He credited the organization and Hawah with saving his life, and after all these years, he wanted to give back. So as a successful hip-hop artist and music producer, Marcus dedicated this particular song to OCU. When I heard the song, I immediately knew that I wanted to direct the music video! However, I kept the thought to myself because, at the time, OCU did not really know I could do so much more.

Marcus (in white) in a community-building activity with a group of youth at the Fly By Light retreat

Overall, my experience at the retreat was so powerful and moving. I learned about OCU’s pillars—Arts Empowerment, Social Justice, Social-Emotional Learning, Health & Wellness, and Environmental Stewardship—and got to experience them in action. There was deep, emotional work being done, and it was clear how important and needed this work was. I felt lucky to be a part of any of it. 

In 2016, I landed the Film Fellow position for One Common Unity. Even though my primary responsibility was to promote the Fly By Light film, I also set my sights on directing the UNITY music video for Marcus’s song. I submitted my proposal, and they loved it. Soon after, with the help of Ellie Walton, the cinematographer, and me at the helm as director and editor, the music video premiered in 2018. (See UNITY here). During that project, it occurred to me that we had all this unedited footage of Marcus from the 2015 retreat! It only made sense to finally edit it together to create a documentary about his story. So today, I’m so proud to share the film:

The Melody Lingers On embodies the theme of creativity as an alternative to violence by showing how someone channels their energies into creating rather than destroying. Marcus is the prime example of what’s possible when we show up to do “the work.” Here, we have a young man (Marcus) who triumphs over tragedy, using his creative skills to move beyond pain and trauma, and bringing positivity into his and his family’s life, using the arts as the healer! He could have followed in either of his brother’s footsteps—one lost to gun violence and the other to prison. Instead, OCU showed him a constructive way to alter his course. And THEN, he jumped at the opportunity to help other young people do the same by coming back to OCU as a youth mentor.

Looking back on all of this, I know Marcus’s story jumped into my life right when I asked the Universe to help me use my talents to make creative and meaningful stories. I work for OCU because I believe in the mission— that everyone should have access to nature, and everyone should have the opportunity to learn how to heal from their trauma. And that young people, especially, need support to help them grow into healthy adults. I felt dedicated to making sure this story was told because Marcus’s powerful, personal testament shows all of this in real-time.

When people watch this movie, wouldn’t it be beautiful if other young people or anyone, for that matter, were inspired by it? While this film is just a singular story about Marcus, many vulnerable youth in cities throughout the nation share these difficult experiences. What if they had access to these same tools that helped Marcus? Imagine the impact we could make on countless young lives. I truly hope this film demonstrates that we need MORE of these kinds of programs in our community—and across the planet—especially for youth.

See how you can help OCU support more youth, just like Marcus.

Kimberley Williams

OCU’s Senior Media Producer 

Share this Story

Read More Stories Like This