UCAN Voices, formerly Uhlich Voices, is a youth-led music project that teaches youth from difficult circumstances to express themselves through lyric writing, music composition, performance, and production of a professional CD. This project cultivates the youth voice and gives participants a safe and constructive way to express their thoughts, feelings, and personal messages through styles of music familiar to them. Perhaps their highest priority is educating the public about the reality being in foster care. Talking about life on the streets as it really is, with no fake glamour or wannabe badness, UCAN Voices represents victims of abuse and neglect -- a group we rarely hear from, except in newspaper horror stories. UCAN Voices members have performed across the country and produced five collaborative CDs since 2003.
"My life has been around a lot of messed up choices. But I try to get my mind right speaking through these Uhlich Voices" -- lyrics from the song "Life"
UCAN Voices began as just an idea when UCAN's CEO, Tom Vanden Berk was trying to encourage the young clients (then 17 and 18) to tell their stories and express themselves in different ways. Three of the group's four members - Fred Long, Victor Spencer, and Erick Johnson - were former wards of the state, the social services and support they received from UCAN helped them survive poverty, abandonment, and the loss of their families. The fourth, Jason Daniels, got to know them through school. Their first CD, Emancipation: Inside the Hearts of DCFS, uses rap, songs, and poetry to share that experience with others. The CD also gives hope to young people everywhere, letting them know that they can overcome and accomplish anything.
UCAN Voices also shares its experience with other children. Their second CD - The System - features tracks written and performed by youth from social service agencies, including Kaleidoscope, Hull House, Lawrence Hall, and Jamal Place, who participated in weekly workshops. Funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services' Teen REACH Focus program, the UCAN Voices CD Project enabled eight youth from each participating agency to create and record music at the Chicago Producers Circle studio in Joliet. Illinois Representative William Davis (D-30) joined one recording session to add his unique opening to a song.
Today, UCAN Voices' main focus remains on working to give young peole a voice. They are involved in after-school programs which help keep youth off the streets and learning to write, produce, and perform music. They are currently in the midst of collaborating with singer/songwriter Michael McDermott.
The Voices collaboration with Michael McDermott is unique and powerful in the sense that it brings together two very different genres of music- rap and rock/folk. The focus of their collaboration has been on inspirational pieces of music about overcoming difficult situations and circumstances. The song "Lift up your heart" is the showcase of the collaboration which centers on a joining of cultures, overcoming obstacles, and reaching a certain level of leadership and understanding. The song will be unveiled at UCAN's 11th Annual Youth Advocacy Awards Dinner on June 9th at the Four Seasons Hotel. Click here for tickets and for more information on the event.