CBS Philly celebrates Black History Month with these profiles of notable Philadelphia-area “gamechangers,” people and organizations making a difference in the lives of the city’s African-Americans.
By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Musician and teacher Suzzette Ortiz is changing the game, one song at a time.
“I work with a lot of students that have all kind of emotional and physical troubles,” says Ortiz. “Through music, I am able to reach them.”
Ortiz directs the concert choir at the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, in Camden, NJ.
In 2003, Ortiz began taking her students overseas each year to compete in international singing competitions — and the students dominated.
“I wanted the kids to feel worthy,” says Ortiz. “Life makes sense when we feel that it’s something for us to do here, there is nobody like us, nobody can be you, and you have something to offer.”
But Ortiz says it’s not the trip but the preparation for it that changes lives. It teaches students to set goals — like raising tens of thousands of dollars — and how to hard work and set high standards.
“The students say, ‘Oh, that note, it’s too high,’ or, ‘This passage in the music is too hard.’ I say, ‘How can you say that if you didn’t try?’ I tell them it does not have to be perfect, but if you try, you will move closer to getting perfect.”
Today, the walls of Ortiz’s classroom are lined with trophies won during a number of trips over the years in places such as Italy, Puerto Rico, Ghana, and more.
“They come back and they see, ‘oh my goodness,’ all the great things that they can accomplish just because they believe in themselves,” says Ortiz, smiling with pride.
Ortiz, who is a classically trained performer, says she is able to challenge her students by challenging herself. She once had dreams of performing all over the world, but a hand injury caused her to change course.
She left Puerto Rico, got a master’s degree in music education at Temple University, and began teaching in Camden.
But she always had a dream of producing an album. Earlier this year she accomplished that goal, a culmination of two decades of hard work.
But she says it all ties back to her students.
“It’s called Renacer,” says Ortiz of her new album. “It means rebirth. This music came out of me working with the kids. I dedicated this to my class of 2012 because I told them they were my rebirth.”
Listen to the extended CBS Philly interview with Suzzette Ortiz (runs 8:24)…