Tamera Laurent, left, Daiyaan Foster and a videographer filmed the latest 12 Miles Up video aboard Second Chance.

Sky’s the limit for students in the 12 Miles Up program, a group dedicated to helping young people create positive change in the Virgin Islands through conscious music. With a new video to be released next week, 12 Miles Up tackles today’s social issues while mentoring and empowering young Virgin Islanders, all with a Caribbean fusion beat.

According to founder Monique Schmidt, 12 Miles Up is named after the Earth’s stratosphere, where there are no storms, just peace and calm. Schmidt is the chair of the English Department at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas. She has taught in seven different countries worldwide, is a former Peace Corp volunteer and, through a partnership with the Washington, D.C. Police Department, she at one time ran a Leadership Through Hip Hop program for at-risk teen girls. Her aim with 12 Miles Up is to uplift V.I. students academically, culturally and spiritually, while promoting self-expression and leadership through the creation of conscious music. The program connects students to something they love — music — while providing them with the tools they need for a successful future.

“I’ve always used music in the classroom,” said Schmidt. “I’ve noticed in classrooms in all countries, music resonates with them. It’s universal. When I came down here, I noticed that same love of music, but there was a lack of opportunity. There’s a lot of talent here; they just need an outlet. This is a way to discover potential and leadership in a really fun, hands-on way.”

The 12 Miles Up videos are all written, choreographed and performed by the students: Tamera Laurent, Jade Durrant, Renaldo Burley and Daiyaan Foster. Not only do the students get to exercise their creativity, they also are able to learn about producing music and videography from community partners. Local musician Taj Siwatu created the beats for the music and 521 Studios recorded and mixed the songs. Videographer Donta Warren from Earthtone Entertainment filmed and edited the video.

For participant Renaldo Burely, the program gives him a chance to use his love of writing music and his creative mind in a constructive way.

“I thought, ‘why not use my talent for something good and for awareness,’” said Burley. “We need to give people another direction, put them on the right path. It’s a reminder of what’s important and what we can do to improve.”

Jade Durrant, who will be a senior in the fall, was looking to come out of her shell and get out of her comfort zone when she joined 12 Miles Up. The program not only helped with her shyness, it also taught her so much more.

“You learn how to deal with problems in a positive way. That’s really needed,” she said.

The subject matter of the video is up to the teens, as long as it deals with a current community issue. Their first video, “Faith,” produced last summer, addressed peaceful conflict resolution and anger management. The second, “Bolder Vision,” emphasized the importance of voting. It was funded by the University Bound program at UVI, and University Bound students performed in the video.

“The original intent behind 12 Miles Up was to have new student artists for each song, so that as many V.I. students as possible could have the chance to showcase their talents and learn leadership skills,” said Schmidt. “However, since the schools closed, I was unable to recruit and audition new students for this third video. Therefore, I reached out to my original students at IEKHS to see if they would be interested in participating again, mostly via Zoom, this summer. They were all super excited, so we began the journey again.”

The latest project, “Current of Change,” filmed on the catamaran Second Chance, was inspired by the racial unrest and protests throughout the country. The video emphasizes unity and encourages black and white communities to come together and learn from each other.

“Current of Change” will be launched next week during a video drop party and will be posted on the 12 Miles Up YouTube channel afterward.

“This is all about empowering the youth,” said Schmidt. “Often kids are overlooked, but there are some conscientious students on the island that want to use their voice to better their community.”

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