It’s a Thursday night in December, and members of the Interdenominational Youth Choir (IYC) are huddled together in the Circus Room of the Bone Student Center. After a quick prayer and a scripture reading, the choir begins to sing in worship.

IYC is one of the oldest Black registered student organizations (RSOs) at Illinois State. Members of the group meet to partake in prayer and perform spirituals and gospel music. Students are free to attend rehearsals and join the group at any point in the semester, as no audition is required to become a member.

Honorary Vice President Jadira Goss joined the choir as a freshman in 2018. The organization’s welcoming environment drew her in.

“We really are open to any and everyone,” said Goss, a senior psychology major from Chicago. “We all come together to sing songs of Christianity, sing songs of praise, and uplift and worship.”

The organization is almost entirely student-run. President Mariah Harris, a senior psychology major from Chicago, oversees logistics, including booking rooms and planning events.

“Our advisor is always willing to help and sign off on things, but everything else is our idea, which I like,” Harris said. “It gives us a chance for ourselves to be seen in high positions and make our work more personal.”

One exception to the scope of the students’ control is the annual anniversary concert, an event overseen by a separate executive board composed of IYC alumni. In celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary in April 2020, alumni planned for a three-day event and spring concert to commemorate the milestone, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic prevented any in-person festivities. The group hopes to bring the event back this year, depending on changes in pandemic-related safety protocols.

Associate Director of Residential Life Donald Reed ’94, M.S. ’97, acts as the IYC liaison between current choir members and the Interdenominational Youth Choir Alumni Association. Reed is an IYC alum and the choir’s faculty advisor.

Donald Reed
Donald Reed

“I remember attending an IYC concert when I was in high school and visiting my brother, an ISU student and assistant choir director for IYC,” Reed said. “I was so impressed with IYC’s performance and ministry that I knew I wanted to sing with the choir when I was a freshman in high school.”

Reed was a member of the choir for the entirety of his undergraduate career, holding the position of assistant music director in his junior and senior years. Like many of the former members in IYC’s strong alumni network, Reed stuck with the organization because he was proud of its tradition of civic engagement. These values have remained a core aspect of the group since its formation in 1970, as members have emphasized community outreach.

In recent years the RSO has sponsored canned good collections and has hosted study tables for students who want a designated time and place to work on assignments. Members are currently working on coordinating with the Midwest Food Bank for future service opportunities.

IYC also typically puts on two concerts each semester, though the pandemic has interfered with some events in recent semesters. At the close of the fall 2021 semester, the choir hosted a “reset week” and performance to help students destress the week prior to final exams.

“We wanted to give students a set time to just have some fun,” Goss said. “Class can be very frustrating, so this gave them a chance to reset and have a chill week before finals began and things started to speed up.”

The three-day reset week took place November 30 through December 3, and included a group study session and a gospel music-themed game night in the Circus Room of the Bone Student Center. The week’s culminating event was the “Confident Hope” concert in the Bone Student Center’s Prairie Room. The concert’s name took after the Bible verse Romans 15:13: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” The verse sums up the mission of IYC.

“Our whole goal is to bring so much love and so much peace to campus,” Harris said. “We want to let them know that through everything from school to outside of the classroom, you can just relax. We sing and put trust in God and know it’ll be all right.”

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