"Over the summer, I realized there are a lot of talented children in the city of Detroit that don't get a chance to showcase their talent. So I wanted to be the person to provide the stage for them," says 13-year-old Nya Simoné. On March 18, 16 kids between ages 6 and 16 took that stage at the Charles H. Wright Museum to sing, dance, play the piano, discuss their entrepreneurship and more.
The showcase was originally slated for January, but the high number of audition videos forced a pushback. Nya started planning last September and says, "Everything just kind of fell into place, but it was sometimes very stressful." Mom Kiwana Rose helped out but says she let Nya take the reins of the decision-making process. "She got mad at me sometimes, because I'm like, 'I'm not deciding,'" Rose says.
Mom's first slice of advice, though, was to seek out a donor to help with the venue deposit, with the promise that if Nya could secure a nice chunk, Rose would cover the rest. Rose recommended that Nya solicit Sweet Potato Sensations. "That's our go-to spot for family chill time, especially in the summer," Rose says. The owners were happy to help and, with mom's added contribution, Make US Known: We Lit! was cemented.
Nya hosted the showcase with 15-year-old Floyd Jeffries – whose little sister Leah Jeffries (in attendance) played Jamal's thought-to-be daughter, Lola, on Fox's Empire. The teenaged hosts took the stage between performances and bantered expertly with the near-full house, Nya dressed in knee-high Chuck Taylor All-Stars and a T-shirt – with "Gritty but Pretty" scrawled across the front – underneath a black bomber jacket.
For her own moment in the spotlight, Nya traded the bomber for a sequined jacket. She's been playing bass guitar since she went to Black Women Rock! summer camp in 2015. The first song she learned was The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and picked it up so quickly that she kept at it. The following year she opened for George Clinton. "Every song, for me, there's always a really difficult part, so once I get past that I get really proud of myself," Nya says. "And I think that feeling is what I like most about it, if that makes sense?"
Rose introduced her daughter saying, "I'm so proud of her, but not because she's doing this, but because of who she is as a person. It is an honor to raise her. It is a blessing to be the person assigned to her. We (parents) often feel like we're supposed to bless them and make them do what we want them to do, but quite often in raising them, we start to learn from them. Her doing what it is that she loves has pushed me to do what it is that I need to do in order to better support her."
Nya says, "I want to be a music producer when I get older and eventually form my own label," offering Jermaine Dupri and Kendrick Lamar as artists in the industry that she looks to for inspiration. As for her personal influencers, she mentions her pastor, Eric Wilkerson, for the way he's able to maneuver through and assist with people's problems. "He is always just positive, and he's very relatable and a very easy person to talk to." Nya wants to eventually organize more concerts around the country in other inner cities. She says adults have the tendency to underestimate children. "They think of you as this little naïve child, that we can't be at a certain level in whatever it is that we specialize in." She hopes to help change that narrative.