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Eastern Students Make a Global Difference

Written by Kate Harner


IMG_0727.JPG            Eastern Connecticut State University seniors Jordan Lorrius, Matthew Grosjean and Ryan Henowitz are using experiences gained while on a trip to Serbia to spread a message of hope and humanity.

            Lorrius, a communication major from Stamford who is of Haitian descent, was in Serbia in January 2010, when he heard about the devastating earthquake in Haiti. "When I heard about the earthquake from an ocean away, I immediately picked up my guitar and wrote a song for Haiti titled 'Ayiti Kanpe'," said Lorrius.

            A few days later, Lorrius played "Ayiti Kanpe" in the Belgrade airport while waiting for his plane home. The general manager of MTV Adria, which covers nations bordering the Adriatic Sea, and executive director of the MTV Europe Foundation, the independent charitable foundation of MTV Networks Europe, heard the song and expressed his interest.

"I didn't know who he was at first," Lorrius explained. "I ended up sitting next to him on the plane, and when I asked who he was, he only told me that he was a music lover. He handed me his card, but I didn't look at it at first. It was only a few weeks later after he contacted me again that I found out who he was.  I sent him a recording of my work, and he told me he wanted to shoot a music video."

            In March 2010, Lorrius returned to Serbia and performed in the music video for his song, "Listen," which was inspired by "Ayiti Kanpe."

            In July, 2010, Grosjean, a political science and economics major from Ellington, joined Lorrius to attend the International Student Week in Belgrade, Serbia, as the only Americans invited to the activism conference. The one-week student festival focused on the question, "Do we tolerate intolerance?", and hosted workshops ranging from human rights to marketing, youth activism and environmental protection. To kick off the week's activities, conference coordinators asked Lorrius and Grosjean to perform at Belgrade's City Hall.

            After their once-in-a-lifetime performance, the two Eastern students spent the week attending the conference's workshops. "We learned how ethics are applied in the workplace and marketplace as a whole and learned how our choices each day affect others," said Lorrius. "We learned how the decisions we make may affect people that are of different race, religion, ethnicity and socio-economic standing."  

During the conference, Lorrius and Grosjean performed at an MTV concert attended by more than 15,000 people. "Jordan and I played the Red Hot Chili Peppers' song, 'Under the Bridge,' before we left the stage," said Grosjean. "The band that followed -- KKN -- dedicated one of their songs to us, saying, 'Here in Belgrade, we were all kids under the bridge,' referring to the NATO bombings in 1999. It was a really special moment."

            Lorrius and Grosjean also attended the Third Age Olympiad, an exhibition of health and wellness and the arts that took place Sept. 29-Oct. 3 in Soko Banja. Ryan Henowitz '11, a political science major from Uncasville, helped them document and research the Olympiad. People they interviewed included retired professional basketball player Vlade Divac, prominent humanitarian and president of the Serbian Olympic Committee. 

            "We took photos and interviewed participants at the Olympiad," said Henowitz. "We wrote a report concerning the event's goals and used it to gain sponsorship and participation from other nations. Matt used his education in economics to analyze the local government and determine how the Olympiad raises funds for the community."

            After reporting on the Olympiad, the Eastern students decided they wanted to conduct further research into life in Serbia. "We are creating a documentary based on my independent study with my political science professor, Adriana Buliga-Stoian," explained Henowitz. "My work focused on the different political scenarios in Serbia with their ethnic wars, political instability and the people's feelings toward each government they have been under since the breakup of Yugoslavia."

            Since returning to Eastern, Lorrius and Grosjean have continued their activism efforts through their band, The Phantoms, which they formed over the summer with several other friends.  "Our songs carry messages ranging from love and relationships to society and how it makes people do what they do," said Grosjean.

The United Nations will feature The Phantoms in its Arts for Peace initiative in early 2011. This initiative, which involves open-source technology so that musicians from around the world can play together over the Internet in real time, hosts salons in which different musicians perform to promote a culture of peace and to support the arts. The Phantoms also will collaborate with the United Nations in January by traveling to Haiti to help with relief efforts. The Arts for Peace initiative will dedicate its Jan. 29 salon to The Phantoms and the band members' music, youth initiative and their research in Serbia and Haiti.


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