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ACTS Youth Council Scores Free Tickets to "Samite and the Queen"

Syracuse International Film Festival Spring Fest

When: Friday, April 21, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Palace Theatre

Address: 2384 James St, Syracuse, NY 13206

            The ACTS Youth Council will be honored as guests for an evening of “film, music, and stories of hope” at the 2017 Syracuse International Film Festival. The Youth Council, who are mostly Somali refugees or children of refugees, will join up to 150 other refugee students from across the Syracuse area with free admission to the Film Festival’s opening night. The event at 7 o’clock on April 21st, “Samite and the Queen,” is a three-part celebration of hope in the face of unimaginable trials. The event and the ticket opportunity were made possible by generous grants from the Central New York Community Foundation, Allyn Foundation, Reisman Foundation, Rotary Club of Syracuse, and Welch Allyn of Skaneateles.


            The night will unfold with the music of Samite Mulondo, an international musician who escaped Uganda as a refugee during Idi Amin’s reign of terror. The students will then enjoy a special viewing of the award-winning Disney film Queen of Katwe, based on the true story of a Ugandan girl’s rise from the slums of Kampala to the World Chess Olympiad in Norway. Finally, Song of the Refugee, a documentary by Syracuse’s very own Glenn Ivers, returns to the screen after twenty years. The documentary recounts the healing power of Samite’s music in refugee camps in Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Rwanda, and his home country of Uganda.

            Much of the night on April 21st will be encompassed by the stories of Samite Mulondo, the international musician famed for his melodic flute music and compassionate voice. For decades, he has lived in Central New York, sharing his music with the broken hearted, the traumatized, and the “tempest-tossed” peoples of the world. This work culminated in the foundation of his non-profit organization “Musicians for World Harmony,” which embodies his belief that, “Music is a great force for healing…able to build bridges between people…to evoke memories and emotions.” For many, this antidote to suffering is needed now more than ever in these uncertain times.


            Late on April 6th, the United States launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles into the war-torn country of Syria in retaliation for Assad’s use of outlawed chemical weapons. Television footage of the missile’s jets of smoke and flickering thrusters was indicative of the Syrian Civil War’s imminent continuation, or perhaps, escalation. Already, the civil war had displaced anywhere from 5 to 6-and-a-half million people since 2011. Beyond Syria, there are still millions of refugees fleeing from places like Iraq and Somalia. As these regions have descended into chaos over the years, these homeless people have knocked on the doors of the international community and pleaded for refuge. The reaction has been largely inadequate to meet the humanitarian disaster. While some nations have welcomed refugees with open arms, such as Germany with its acceptance of over 890,000 Syrian asylum seekers, others have answered the pleas of displaced men, women, and children with intolerance and suspicion. Many Syracuse students are refugees themselves, and have felt the stress of this climate more intensely than anyone.


            Musicians for World Harmony sensed this apprehension in 12 Muslim Syracuse students at the North Side Learning Center, so Samite led a project in 2017 to help them express their voice through poetry. The result is a powerful song recorded by Samite, four of the young Muslim women, and Nate Silas Richardson (an Ithaca-based musician). “Assalamu alaikum,” rings the song’s Arabic chorus, or “peace be on you.”

“We are Somali Girls. We are Muslim. We are singing because we want people to hear our voices. Our message to the world is about love, and peace, and caring,” said one of the young women on the track.


            Samite marveled at the outcome, as the sessions that produced the song had started in relative silence. The girls were shy at first and remembered little about their arrival to the United States. With Samite’s encouragement, however, the room soon resonated with laughter and stories of their childhood.

            “They began to speak up, sharing more freely,” said Samite. His ability to muster joy from people emerged from the most tragic of crucibles: civil war. In Africa, many years ago, Samite was a refugee on the run from death.

            For most of his life, Samite lived with his Grandfather, who he called “jaja.” Jaja was a relative of the King, and a very wealthy man. On his feet, where he could have worn any pair of shoes in the world, he instead wore the simple wooden shoes of a Ugandan peasant. His money, that could have been spent on lavish items, was instead given away to help the poor. Jaja was a humble man, and often took a young Samite on walks through the forest.

            “He told me not to pay attention to material things, that they were ultimately meaningless,” said Samite in his 2017 Ted Talk. On their walks together, they heard the birds and monkeys of the forest sing as the leaves rustled under their feet. After they left the forest, the sun would set behind the hills and bring dusk. The sound of drums then rose from the surrounding villages like fire and filled their ears with music.

            “Life was perfect,” said Samite, “until a dictator called Idi Amin Dada came to power. People started to die…and the birds stopped singing.”


            Amin’s military coup, and his subsequent unelected presidency, spread terror over Uganda. The dictator slipped further into paranoia and brutally persecuted dissenters and “political adversaries,” resulting in the deaths of as many as 500,000 people over 8 years, according to Amnesty International. Amin killed everyone from playwrights, to students, to clergy, to Samite’s own brother and step-father.  Samite fled and became a refugee in Kenya, where he landed in an overcrowded camp. There, poverty was the true equalizer of all people.

“It did not matter whether you were a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a teacher, all were street beggars. All were just the same, refugees trying to survive,” recalled Samite.


            After he arrived in the United States he performed concerts until another experience changed his life again. Glenn Ivers approached him after a show and asked him to collaborate on the Song of the Refugee documentary he was planning in Africa. At that time, ethnic cleansing ravaged Rwanda and massacres were happening in Liberia. Samite thought to himself, No way! I do not want to go back to Africa.

MWH Music Heals Program Highlights
Musicians for World Harmony sharing the healing music with refugees.

            “Yes, I want to go,” he ended up saying, and soon found himself on a plane to Liberia. Liberia was followed by the Ivory Coast, then Rwanda, and finally, Uganda. Samite had gone full circle. By playing the flute and singing to the somber crowds inside the refugee camps he witnessed a miracle. The children danced, the women sang, and the men followed the women to the party. In a place where happiness was lost to trauma, moments of hope and friendship were revitalized. Samite had turned his own salvation, music, into the salvation of so many others. There is perhaps no better analogy to describe the relevancy of “Samite and the Queen,” on April 21st, then a salvation of refugees and their legacy. Like his Ted Talk in 2017,

Samite will couple music with storytelling at the Syracuse International Film Festival (SIFF).

“What is the significance of such an event?” Ivers said to the writer of this newsletter, “For me, it underscores how special Syracuse is. It has always welcomed refugees.”


            Just as refugees were welcomed in Syracuse with open hearts, so too will the refugee children of the ACTS Youth Council, the North Side Learning Center, and from numerous organizations across the city to the SIFF. Each of the three events on April 21st; the concert, the Queen of Katwe, and The Song of the Refugee, will prevail against the tide of negative political rhetoric expressed in the past year against refugees.

            “The kids will be acknowledged by Samite and the SIFF and made to feel special. They will have an evening of nothing but positive messages. All refugee families have heard negative messages recently,” said Ivers, now the SIFF Director of Development.

            Our time certainly has its ailments. Every minute, somewhere in the world, 25-30 people are displaced from their homes by warfare, famine, or persecution. One in every 113 people in the world are refugees, and those statistics are likely to increase as conflicts continue. With each decision of intolerance and hate, of ignorance or denial, the stability of the world deteriorates ever more. But, in all this darkness, there is the opportunity to shine a light. The event, “Samite and the Queen,” is just one example of an act of homage to our fellow Syracuse community members, and to the displaced people of the global community. The mission of ACTS is to transform Syracuse, and this event could be called a celebration of that vision.

Lessons of Humanity: What Music & My Grandfather Have Taught Me
Samite Mulondo TEDxChemungRiver
Samite Mulondo uses the healing power of music to share his message of peace and hope. Travel with him now as he shares a story that crosses boundaries both physically and emotionally. 

ACTS Youth Council Still Accepting Applications Before Their April 20th Meeting at 6:00 p.m.

Contact Information for Youth Council Personnel:


Aneesah Evans

Coordinator of the ACTS Youth Council


ACTS Youth Council Contact

(Messages Go to ACTS Youth Council PR Officer Dahabo Farah)


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