by Dom Jones
I met Diamond during the rehearsals for the first Black Lives Matter concert. The producers had put her in a bright red sequin dress, reminiscent of Shug Avery from The Color Purple. Though it was historically accurate for the time period from which her song stemmed, I thought the outfit was hilarious, but I didn’t know her like that, so I maintained my resting face. I’d end up joining the Black Student Union Advisory Board later that year, where Diamond was already a member, and working with her on the Leadership Summit and other smaller programs for BSU before both of us were promoted to the Executive Board when the seniors that year graduated. At the time of our promotion into leadership, I still didn’t know Diamond very well. She was nice enough, like everyone else on the board, but I barely knew her major, nothing about her personal life or where she was from, nothing about her aspirations post-Berklee, and unlike many of our peers, Diamond wasn’t the one to tell all of her business without anyone asking to hear it. I’d get to know her eventually, and by necessity, when I got a call over the summer after our promotion to the executive board asking if I could produce a Black Lives Matter Concert honoring Angela Davis that would occur just three weeks after the semester started. Of course, I took on the task and was so sure that the entire BSU board would help make the production a success. When I ended up shouldering most of the logistical weight for that concert along with Diamond, and consequently ended up planning and executing the rest of the BSU programming for the remainder of the academic year with only Diamond, we became friends, but more importantly, peers who shared a mutual respect and work ethic. The next semester, when I found out that she wouldn’t be able to return to Berklee, I was pretty crushed… which is why I’m glad she’s back now for her senior year after a one semester sabbatical. She had her first Caf Show this past Friday, and I showed up in Berklee Groove capacity to check it out.
Of course after soundcheck, prayer would precede Diamond’s show. Her spirituality is a part of her DNA, and was the anchor for the music and aesthetic of the show. Starting off the Caf Show with an upbeat tune, the sound was booming, as she had keys, aux keys, drums, bass, guitar, a horn section, and six background singers. The show was called “Victory, and each singer or musician in her show wrote something that they were attempting to or had triumphed over. Diamond’s shirt read “Victory Over Fear,” while other shirts said things such as “Victory Over Low Self-Esteem” or “Victory Over Depression.” It was a way to both be vulnerable with and relate to an audience full of peers who are all likely trying to overcome some of the same challenges in their academic, artistic, professional, and personal lives. As the downstairs and upstairs of the Caf filled with students, some others entered as well. Friends and family from Diamond’s hometown entered as well to support her in her first big solo show on campus.
One of the highlights of the night is when Diamond’s mom joined her on stage for a portion of a song. Diamond had expressed weeks ago that she wanted her mom to come and sing with her, but didn’t, in actuality, expect it that wish to come true. The visit from family was a total surprise, but the way that her mom fell into singing with the group felt totally natural.
Like a lot of gospel shows I’ve attended at Berklee, there were praise breaks, there was worship music playing between songs while Diamond spoke to the audience, and it pretty much felt like any church musical that you might attend at black churches around the country. What I liked about Diamond’s show was that she wasn’t using the theme of her show to try to preach to the audience or convert people to her way of thinking. She was using it as a way to allow people to address challenges that they may be facing and overcome them in a safe and familiar setting. Her group went first, all donning shirts that literally wore their issues on their sleeves. In that way, the church part of “church service” could fall away, and regardless of one’s spiritual affiliation or lack thereof, the show could still be of service to everyone.
Most of the time, when students have to take a semester off from Berklee, the likelihood of their returning is close to zero. Once you fall behind in your matriculation, academics become a challenge. If the reason for your sabbatical was financial, like many things in life, it can feel as though if you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, and getting more support to finish your education can be too great a wall to scale. Crazily enough, it wasn’t all of Diamond’s contributions to the Berklee community that have kept her on the path to graduation. It wasn’t her stellar record as an RA in the dormitories. It wasn’t her years of service on the Black Student Union or her helping to create a weekly harmony study group with the Harmony department to address the disproportionate amount of students of color who struggle in the core curriculum. It wasn’t her co-producing the Black Lives Matter concerts, and it wasn’t her general entrenchment in the student body as a resource to entering students and upperclassman alike. We all know people who give so much to Berklee, and when they need help to graduate, they are met with silence or rejection. In many of those cases they give up. In Diamond’s case, nothing that she’d done prevented her from having to take a semester off, but unlike many of those we know, it was her grit that has kept her on the path towards crossing that stage and getting that piece of paper. During her sabbatical, she returned to Detroit where she spent the semester working multiple jobs, one of which was in her field of choice, teaching children. Upon graduation, and she will graduate, Diamond plans to teach music at the elementary school level. And her success won’t be because she was given the best circumstances or her ship set on the smoothest seas. It will be because, even under immense pressure, she never gave up, she never took no for an answer, and ultimately, yes she’s getting Victory Over Fear (that’s what her shirt says)… but more importantly, she’s getting Victory Over Berklee.
THIS IS A 2017-18 SENIOR PROFILE, WRITTEN BY BERKLEE GROOVE. TO BE CONSIDERED FOR A SENIOR PROFILE, EMAIL email@example.com