Standing Strong

Reflecting the true spirit of Boston, Berklee student Callie Benjamin aided the injured immediately after the April 15 bombings.

By Mark Small

After the April 15 terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon, numerous alumni from around the world sent messages with well wishes, hopes, and prayers that all members of the Berklee community were safe. Many recognized from news footage that the stretch of Boylston Street where the blasts occurred was close to some of Berklee’s buildings. The college was fortunate that day: No Berklee students or employees were seriously hurt and no college property was damaged.

Some students received minor injuries, but were generally OK. One student, Callie Benjamin, was waitressing that Monday at the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street, mere feet from where one bomb exploded. She had just left the Forum’s sidewalk café to bring dishes upstairs when the blast went off. She rushed back down to guide terrified customers out the back door and then gathered linens to bandage those gravely injured until first responders arrived. Benjamin was one of many who selflessly remained on the scene that day to help, overriding the natural human instinct to flee a horrific scene. “The fact that I was able to help others will also help me to get past this,” Benjamin said.

With four campus buildings in the zone cordoned off by the FBI, the college remained closed for the week. But senior administrators worked tirelessly with Student Affairs, Public Safety, Housing and Residence Life, and Aramark Dining Services to make sure all students—especially those living on campus—were accounted for, safe, well-fed, and receiving counseling where needed. President Brown and External Affairs personnel used several forms of media to provide status updates to all members of the Berklee community and to worried student parents everywhere. Many altruistic Berklee employees did yeoman service helping the college prepare to return to teaching music after the hiatus.

A tragedy seems to bring out the best in many people. There are numerous stories of both simple and profound acts of kindness performed by the members of the Berklee community. Berklee student Gia Greene sang at the funeral service for Krystle Campbell, one of the three who died in the attack. Other students performed at locations around the city and shared songs they’d written on YouTube.

One week after the incident, the college reopened and a healing event titled “Let the Sunshine In” was held in the Berklee Performance Center. It included uplifting music plus words from Roger Brown, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost Larry Simpson, faculty MC Armsted Christian, and open mics so audience members could share their feelings.

“Music is important; music matters,” Simpson stated. “We will not let fear control what we do. We are stronger than violence and more creative than those who oppose us.”

Brown described the plurality of emotions he felt in the aftermath. He spoke of driving to get ice cream on Newbury Street, just blocks from the bombing site, after the man designated as “suspect number two” was apprehended. “Boston is my second home,” Brown said. “I was glad that we were safe again.” He also spoke of being impressed by one student’s determination to run in the marathon next year. “Recovery will be a marathon itself. It won’t be quick. There is no magic formula for living together in peace. But whatever formula there is includes music, I’m sure.”

The inspirational music interspersed throughout the event was provided by student and faculty performers. Of note was the impassioned rendition of the gospel song “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” given by  professors Dennis Montgomery (piano) and Donna McElroy (vocals). The student cast of the musical Hair got the last word. They offered a stirring performance of “Let the Sunshine In” that ended the hourlong gathering, leaving audience members upbeat, ready to finish the semester.