A few months back, Oy!Chicago shared the stories of two local teens making a difference in Chicago’s Jewish Community. Spencer Tweedy, a 14-year-old blogger and musician, and Ethan Barhydt, a 19-year-old Darfur activist, were both highlighted this summer in JVibe magazine’s first-ever “18 under 18” awards honoring extraordinary teens. Since then, Ethan and Spencer have joined forces and combined their talents to make a difference in their community.
“When I had read about Spencer being a great drummer and having a blog, really reaching out to the Chicago community, I was thinking with the activism that I’ve done and the music that he does we could really create a powerful campaign around music and philanthropy, and combine those two elements to engage more students in the Chicago area,” Ethan said.
So they connected through Facebook, and got together to organize Rock ‘n’ Raise for Darfur, a month-long campaign throughout February combining music and philanthropy to raise funds for Darfuri refugee children living without access to quality education. The campaign, an initiative of Youth United for Darfur (YUFD)— a Chicago-based student coalition founded by Barhydt—is hoping to raise $50,000, about enough to fund an entire school in a Darfuri refugee camp through the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister Schools program.
For their main event, Ethan and Spencer organized the Rock ‘n’ Raise for Darfur concert, which raised $3,200 toward the campaign. On Feb. 14, more than 400 people came to hear Spencer’s band, the Blisters, along with several other Chicago rock groups including Madina Lake, Brendan Kelly and Big Science at the Metro in Chicago. The concert, hosted by YUFD, was also supported by the Enough Project, Metro, American Jewish World Service, Amnesty International, the Save Darfur Coalition and JVibe.
“It was really, really fun,” Spencer said. “My band played and it was just a great time. I think people really enjoyed the music as well as having the chance to help out in Darfur.” According to Ethan, Spencer’s drum solo was a big hit that evening.
Another local Jewish teen, Morgan Sendor, a student at Glenbrook South High School and the current leader of YUFD, has been a major force in organizing the Rock 'n' Raise for Darfur campaign. She has mobilized youth across the city and helped coordinate many of the logistics of the concert. In addition to the main event, students at over 30 participating schools held fundraisers of their own, hosting bake sales, talent shows and open mike nights.
A second event, called Education for a Generation, a special reception for the Darfur Dream Team, will be held at the Union League Club in Chicago this Thursday, Feb. 25. The event, co-hosted by the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and the Enough Project, will feature Luol Deng, a Chicago Bulls star and native of Sudan, John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, Rick Hirschhaut, Illinois Holocaust Museum executive director, and Lonnie Nasatir, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. Tickets and more information is available on the Darfur Dream Team website.
As of today, the Rock ‘n’ Raise campaign has raised $9,500. “Many of the groups have had to delay fundraising due to other fundraising for Haiti, etc.,” Ethan said. “So, we will be extending the campaign into March and even potentially April. But $50,000 is still our goal.”
So what’s next for these two teens?
“If Ethan has anymore awesome ideas like this in mind, I’m sure whatever he comes up with I’d be glad to help,” said Spencer. “I definitely think using the things we specialize in together is just an awesome way to connect us to people living a crisis, like the Darfuri refugees.”