When we say Houston strong, we proclaim it in a multitude of diverse, beautiful voices. Writers in the School (WITS) strives to keep the youngest of those voices singing now and into the future. During their recent Many Voices | One Houston gala, supporters from across the city came together to celebrate all WITS continues to achieve but also to honor one set of extraordinary voices, the Leech family.
Emceed by Houston poet laureate, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, the event at The Astorian gave guests a dazzling view of downtown Houston as they listened to some of Houston’s rising poets, including adorable and meaningful readings from eight-year old Daniela Arnold and nine-year-old Aaron Crossland, who showed the awe-struck friends of WITS that nothing could silence him, especially after receiving a new kidney.
A dynamic, poetry slamming performance from team Meta-Four Houston emphatically described what it means to be a proud Houstonian.
Also introduced to the captivated crowd was another young voice Houston will be hearing great verses from, the city’s new Youth Poet Laureate, Rukmini Kalamangalam. With her laureate title, the 16-year-old Carnegie Vanguard High School student becomes the Cultural Arts Advisor to the Mayor's Youth Council.
Celebration chair Sara Speer Selber and honorary chair Marcia Nichols reminded guests the important work WITS does with students across the city. Tales were told of how WITS writers spent time in the shelters after Hurricane Harvey, continuing their work even as schools remained closed.
The highlight of the evening came with the introduction and honoring of the Leech family for their commitment to creativity and the arts in Houston. Opera lovers around the world know Perryn Leech as the managing director of Houston Grand Opera, but it was his wife, young adult book author Caroline Leech, who spoke for the family, including daughter Kirsty and son and actor, Rory, who could not be present because of a theater commitment.
Yet many of Caroline Leech’s words came from oldest daughter Jemma Leech, an accomplished, award-winning young poet and WITS student for more than a decade. Because Jemma has cerebral palsy and cannot speak, her mother acted as her voice. Jemma’s speech brought many in the audience to tears of joyful inspiration with its story of how WITS had helped her find her poetic voice and true writer-self.
Songs and poetry filled the air near the end of the evening as the Greenbriar Consortium Quartet performed two of Jemma Leech’s poems set to music by Mary Carol Warwick.
Funds raised during the evening will help to give 3,500 children WITS programming for an entire year.
Seen celebrating the power of Houston’s young voices were Long Chu, Stephanie Larsen, Shannon Buggs, Grace Rodriguez, Carl Josehart and Sam Jacobson, Shari Koziol, Barry Mandel and Scott Sawyer, Esther and Robin Perrine, MaryScott Hagle and David Kornberg, Melanie Malinowski and Andy Cunningham, Ana Beaven, Carliss Chatman, Josephine and William Rice, Karen McKibben and William Morris, Lucy and Sam Chambers, Cynthia and Tony Petrello, and John Arnold.
Also spotted in the crowd were Dr. John and Anne Mendelsohn, Dean Gladden, Ab Sengupta, June Christensen, Philamena and Arthur Baird, Kathryn McNiel, Terrylin Neale, Nancy Powell Moore, Sandra Godfrey, Hinda Simon, Angela Lutz, Peter Selber, Robin Angly and Miles Smith, Gloria Portela, Darrin Davis and Mario Gudmunddsson, Mitra and Joshua Woody, Roberto Tejada, Giuseppe Taurino, Chanler Langham, Claire Sirois and Garrick Malone, Ryan Leach and Outspoken Bean.