(Laura J. Champagne, April 8, 2017)
Pontiac, MI – For the Mom, there is music; for the daughter, there is language. And the bond gets stronger over a trip to China. The Mother, Melanie Rutherford is a singer/songwriter of national renown and she’s using her music to help raise money for her daughter, Moriah’s, five- week trip to China in June. Moriah’s passion for language and travel is long standing, but her desire to do it now has been inspired by recent tragedies of a mentor and best friend. This is a story about Moriah, but it can’t be told without also telling Melanie’s story.
Melanie started singing in church art age three, sang with the third graders when she was in kindergarten and began winning talent contests soon afterwards. At Pontiac Central High School, she came in at number two in the Michigan Solo Ensemble Competition. She ended up with scholarships from the James Tate foundation for the Arts and the Beta Phi Beta Sorority, and accepted a full music scholarship to Dillard University in Louisiana.
Her big break as a singer/songwriter came in 2003 at a Florida music conference when she was “discovered” by Def Jam recording artist Redman. He immediately provided her with an intro to powerful figures in the world of music and eventually signed her to his recording label. Since then she has recorded a collaborative EP with Black Milk and had a guest spot on his show Tronic. She’s wrote Vesta Williams’ last album, and continues to write for Redman, Method Man, Jay Z, Rahzel of the Roots, Dru Hill, Pharoahe Monch, Day 26, Letoya, American Idol finalist Lakisha Jones, and R&B artists Faith Evans and Carl Thomas. Universal Music/Motown artist KEM once called her one of his musical inspirations, alongside Michael Jackson, Prince and Chaka Khan. Heady stuff.
On her own, she has performed live on Detroit shows and has written and recorded critically acclaimed CDs. Her debut CD “You’ve Got Me” (2004) remains a cult favorite even though it’s been out of print for years. ”Relationships in My Own Words” was named best release by a major British Music Store (2007). She’s currently working on a new release, and is keeping busy with her Pontiac publishing business Mellosmooth Publishing.
In a 2009 article about Melanie, Detroit Metro Times described her voice: “It’s a husky, glistening instrument – raw, but controlled, with a lot of volume and color. The kind of voice that gets used often and without reservation simply because when people hear it, they want to hear more.”
But life wasn’t always music and success. There was her father walking out on her and her 12 siblings when Melanie was seven. There were adult years of abusive relationships, dating men on drugs and thoughts of suicide. Years of successful music followed by the death of a friend and a promising publishing contract that didn’t materialize. And the birth of her daughter, Moriah which brought her back to joy. And now Moriah is a junior at West Bloomfield High School and looking forward to spending five weeks in China and Melanie will be releasing her song Monday, and use the proceeds to make sure that happens.
You face hardship you had rain
You lost your mentor thought you’d never heal again.
You seek triumph and you’ve seen war, but now you found what you’ve been searching for.
So travel on Moriah reach for higher
Never stop till you reach that Great Wall
Go on to China
Come on Moriah go and be who you are
From: “Travel on Moriah” by Melanie Rutherford
When Moriah talks about language, you can hear the passion in her voice and her understanding of its underpinnings. She’ll tell you about root words and her lament that West Bloomfield High School dropped Latin, a foundation for romance languages such as Spanish and Italian, and is useful for deciphering origins of English words. She differentiates between languages that are alphabet based and Chinese and Arabic that are character based. In fact, she is more attracted to character based languages because knowing one makes it easier to decipher similar characters. So far, she’s taken a year and a half of French, two years of Chinese and is planning to start on Arabic on her own next year because West Bloomfield High School doesn’t currently offer it.
Moriah is more than about languages. She carries a 3.! grade point average, and is active in many school and volunteer activities. At school, there’s the Chinese and Book and Video Clubs, the African American Alliance. Through the Pontiac Library, she gets more involved in community activities such as Habitat for Humanity, Gleaners Food Bank, Services for the homeless and at-risk teens. Just to name a few.
As a Junior, Moriah has also been looking for a college that fits her interests and can help propel her to the future she envisions. So far, she’s looking at Historic Black Colleges (HBC) such as Howard and Spellman, but also keeping Harvard in her sites. Her goal – which she is quick to admit is a work in progress – is international relations, with an ultimate career as an ambassador.
It was the scholastic success, the prowess in language and the commitment to others that demonstrated a maturity that School Year Abroad (SYA) looks for when it vets students for foreign travel. And Moriah exceeded all its requirements.
Moriah has always wanted to travel, and she’s always loved languages. As she says, languages lend themselves to travel because then language and culture and history and politics merge and she learns about people. Aside from a trip to Stafford, Ontario, her travel to date has been in the United States – Chicago, South Carolina, North Carolina, Atlanta, New York, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Washington, D.C. China will be her first venture into a truly foreign country. She just didn’t expect it to come this soon, but two tragedies in two years propelled her to rethink her timeline.
The first tragedy to strike was in 2015 when three West Bloomfield students committed suicide. One of them, Sam Taub, was one of Moriah’s best friends. He died in April four months after coming out as transgender, changing his name from Samantha to Sam and beginning the transition. His father with whom he lived was confused, but supportive; not all of his classmates were, and his death hit Moriah hard.
The following year, the school’s Theater and Drama teacher committed suicide. Micah Greene had been a mentor to Moriah, helping her to overcome her shyness by encouraging her to take public speaking. More importantly, he urged her to pursue her own dreams. “Don’t just dream, pursue your dreams now not two years from now” is how she remembered his encouraging her to travel.
Mental health experts talk about suicide being contagious among teenagers especially. Two suicides of people with whom Moriah was close presented challenges that no teenager should have to face and she was not immune to difficulties associated with such losses. Her mother’s own experience with suicide made her aware that she needed something to bring Moriah back into the sunshine quickly and pursuing travel became that pathway. They had often talked about travel, but living on limited income as a single Mom, it always seemed to take a lower priority and they continued to put it off. But friends, both Melanie’s and Moriah’s, pushed them to make it happen now.
Moriah did the research on exchange programs, filled out the application and wrote the essay. Melanie did the calculations, laid down a deposit and started a Gofundme Campaign. The program they chose together was Student Year Abroad, a program based in Massachusetts that offers academic years abroad as well as the five week program on which Melanie and Moriah settled.
In Beijing, Moriah will live with a host family that SYA determined would be a good fit for her and she will take high school classes in English and Mandarin at Beijing Normal University. She will also be able to participate in extra curricular activities such as dance, Tai Chi, cooking, theater, band and chorus. The classes run for four weeks and the fifth week will be devoted to travel into different parts of China. Fluency in the language is not a prerequisite for foreign travel, but Moriah is confident she can hold her own in a conversation and asking directions. She is also confident that her language skills will improve immensely after being immersed in it on a daily basis.
Travel is expensive. SYA is providing some financial assistance, but that left the family to raise close to $7,000 for expenses not covered by the aid package. Airfare alone is almost $2400 and the cost of vaccines require another $2500 and is not covered by health insurance. Then there’s the cost of a passport and visa, and other one time only and daily expenses that travel will require. Melanie has already paid a $1000 deposit, but steady money is hard to come by in the music business, so she started a Gofundme Campaign to raise the additional money needed: getmoriahtochina. So far, slightly over $3000 has been raised with donations ranging from $20 from a student at Oakland Community College to $1000 from Moriah’s godfather. Others have contributed simply because they’ve read Moriah’s story and were moved to help her achieve this dream. Every dollar helps.
Moriah’s plane departs Detroit Metro June 20th at 8:35 a.m. Her mother and friends will be there to see her off. Micah Greene and Sam Taub will be in her heart cheering her on as they did in life. Contribute to make her trip a reality and you will forever be in the minds and hearts of Melanie and Moriah. Me? I’ll contribute too but more than that, I look forward to hearing Melanie’s music and pictures from Moriah’s trip.
To donate go to https://www.gofundme.com/getmoriahtochina