September 2009

Since he began playing drums at age 10, Michael Coleman, '10, leadership studies major and music minor, has had a passion for music. In his three years at the University of Richmond, he has served as the director of the University of Richmond's Umoja Gospel Choir and a member of the jazz band.

This summer, Coleman brought together his musical talents, his faith and his commitment to community in his required internship for the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. He served as music and event coordinator intern for Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT), a tutoring and mentorship program based in Richmond's East End.

The University's connections to the Church Hill community and this program are longstanding and deep. Percy Strickland, former InterVaristy Christian Fellowship staff member at the University, and his wife, Angie, founded CHAT in 2002. The program provides physical fitness practice, spiritual growth opportunities and life skills lessons to at-risk youth in an effort to improve their quality of life and prepare them for successful futures. The program serves some 85 young people each year.

In addition, in 2007, Jepson alumnus Jeremiah Winters and his wife, Taylor, also a graduate, played a key role in the start of Church Hill Academy, a Christian private school. Its mission is to train and equip young men and women with the skills necessary for becoming responsible citizens.

The academy grew out from the CHAT program and serves as an academic center. Among the current faculty members are several Richmond graduates, including Jack Bell, Taylor Winters and Dan Fisher. Murray Withrow, '06, also became involved with CHAT while attending Richmond as a Bonner Scholar, and now serves as program director.

In the interconnected world of Richmond nonprofits, the East End Fellowship also coordinates with CHAT and the academy. Coleman works with the fellowship, a robust outreach ministry of Third Presbyterian Church. He plans the musical portion of Sunday services and also plans community events.

He brought in the band Soulseed, a group of college students from all over the nation involved in Impact, a primarily African-American Christian student organization. They played outside the restored Robinson Theater and drew a broad community audience.

While a focus of his internship was the music ministry, Coleman spent a significant portion of his time working with the youth at CHAT. When asked about the impact the mentorship had on the children, Coleman said, "A lot of students don't really have the opportunity to venture outside of the East End area of Richmond. Therefore, exposure and interactions with other ethnicities are at a minimum. With CHAT, the kids have an opportunity to attend youth group with Third Presbyterian Church, a primarily Caucasian church. It's great to see them interacting with people of different backgrounds."

In addition to his involvement in Church Hill, Coleman volunteers regularly with the Youth Life Foundation, a similar afterschool tutoring and mentorship program in Richmond for students in kindergarten through middle school. That relationship builds on a family connection: His sister, Erica Coleman, '08, was involved with the Youth Life Foundation as a student and worked at their Delmont Learning Center as a teacher following her graduation.

"My career aspirations are all music-related," said Coleman, in describing his plans for after graduation. He expressed an interest in further pursuing music in a church setting, possibly as a recording artist. "My internship with CHAT is challenging me to be a leader in areas where I've never had the opportunity to lead."