I didn’t set out to change the community. I just set out to make music.
But at Neutral Zone, I learned that those two things are inextricably linked.
Hi, my name is Clarence Collins, III. I live on the border (literally) between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and I’m a senior at Community High School. I’m the youngest of ten kids, so I already
knew about the Neutral Zone from some of my siblings who came here a lot or knew some of the staff.
Music drove me to get involved at NZ, but it’s not my only interest. I’ve performed in the B-side concert venue, taking 1st place at last year’s Battle of the Bands and at Live on Washington music festival. I’ve recorded music in the Orpheum studio and been in the beatmaking and songwriting workshops. I’ve been a B-side promoter, a member of the music production staff, and part of the Live on Washington planning team. I even got to go to Los Angeles for a project with other youth music organizations from across the country.
I’ve also been a part of SEED — Students Educating Each Other about Diversity, and now I am serving on the NZ board of directors.
At Neutral Zone, I can be myself. People here respect me and invest in me. Neutral Zone leaders lead by leading, by doing the thing and not telling you how to do it. For example, Charlie, who
runs the music programs, doesn’t tell you to go put out flyers. He goes out there with you and shows you how to do it. Good leadership get its hands dirty. I like being taught through example.
What it all adds up to is a chance to make things happen, not just personally, creatively and artistically, but for the whole community. That’s what’s unique about the Zone. Not a lot of
kids get to do that in high school. My sister agreed, telling me, “To be honest, if you don’t do these things at the NZ you’re not gonna really learn that anywhere else.”
What we are creating here matters. Music and community events are a kind of community change. At Live on Washington, having two thousand people listening to music and enjoying food together, being together, changes the culture of youth in Ann Arbor. It changes how and where we connect and gives form and space to the ways we can come together.
I want to say thank you for all that. As a Neutral Zone donor, you’re someone who either already knows about the amazing things that go on here for youth, or you took a leap of faith and made an investment in this place, in kids like me.
I hope you’ll consider donating again. There are so many teens at the Neutral Zone today building things, planning events, coming together and changing their world.
Those future leaders show up hungry sometimes (ok — a lot of the time, we’re teenagers), looking for a snack. We need materials to be able to go out and promote our shows. Some of us need help paying the program fees for a Neutral Zone year. We can’t build our community if we turn teens away because they can’t pay. When you contribute to the Neutral Zone, your gift pays for all these things.
What I’ve gained from my time at Neutral Zone has been really influential and makes me think differently about things. This place and these people have provoked my thoughts and fertilized the soil of my brain.
Just about everything I learned here, I will take with me on the next steps of my journey.
I’ve achieved much of what I set out to do: I created a great band — Rosewood — made a lot of music and helped build a scene. In the process, I’ve also changed the community I live in.
My generation is just getting started, but we will make you proud. Thanks for believing in us, and supporting the Neutral Zone.
Clarence Collins, III