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Women of Soul White House: Deja's Reflection

It seems almost impossible to think that just a few days ago, I sat in the White House State Dining hall; A hall that holds presidents, kings, and queens, just a few days ago held me.

The experience has not ceased to echo in the back of my mind, I know it's one I will carry with me forever.Day one was quite a funny scene to behold, as the five selected girls (Myself, Bailey, Danell, Daphnei and Dori), met snow for the first time and became acquainted with the 22 degree weather. It was something that took getting used to since we’re all pretty spoiled by the tropical Hawaiian weather.

After settling in at our hotel, we left for the metro station about a block and a half away. Personally, I hated the metro for fear that I would get left behind the group. Mr. Kitsu taught the girls how to use the metro cards and before we knew it, we were “metro-pros.” That night, we had dinner at Brazilian Steakhouse, Fogo de Chao. Quite possibly, this restaurant might have been the best one I’ve ever been to in my life! The variety of meat and their signature bread was absolutely mind-blowing. I can’t ever recall eating so much before.

We finished the night shivering back to our hotel, not far from the dreaded “kanak attack”. Yet despite the painfully cold weather and our drooping eyes, we knew that this was going to be the beginning of an awesome experience for the six of us.

Day two started at 5:30 am with the girls making calls to each others rooms and Mr. Kitsu, to make sure everyone was up and ready to get the day started. We all woke up early to avoid being late and missing anything D.C. had to offer. We caught the metro into town and used GPS to find the W Hotel where our GRAMMY workshops were being held. After finding it a few hours too early, we decided to find a place to have breakfast. This is where we stumbled upon the Corner Bakery which was an absolute treat. We made friends with our waiter and even talked story with him for a little while, the hospitality he gave was genuine and kind and reminded us of the Aloha at home.

The morning workshop at the W was exciting and informational. There were groups from all over continental America, eager to learn about music and even more eager to experience it. In the workshop, we learned how major shows, like the GRAMMY’s, are produced and we chuckled knowing that putting together a huge show like the GRAMMY’s can be comparatively similar when thinking about the work put in to put on an NPAC show.

Later, as a group, we went to the National Museum of American History which was one of my favorites. I learned about different American wars and the industrial revolution. I even got to walk through the African-American History exhibit which really meant a lot for me, being of that ethnic background.

That night we had dinner with Martha from AEG. She treated us to an amazing dinner at the Hamilton and answered questions about who she was and what she does in her job.

Afterwards, we made our way across the street to the evening workshop at the W Hotel where we planned and finalized a flash mob for the White House workshop.

Day three, this was the moment we were all waiting for. It began early, like day two. We were all set to meet the entire GRAMMY group at 9:45am so we came an hour early in hopes of getting good seats in the White House. This day happened to be the coldest of the week and the girls had resulted to huddling and jumping up and down to maintain warmth. It was cold but we weren’t letting the weather ruin our experience so we bore with it tried our best to forget about it.

We went through heaps of security, I don’t think I’ve ever been scanned or smelled by dogs so much but, in the end, it was worth it. It didn’t really hit me that I was in the White House until I walked into the lobby before the Dining Room. There was a certain energy about the place that everyone could feel but couldn’t really describe in words. It was an immense joy and excitement that really can’t be reproduced.

The workshop began with a message from our First Lady on women in soul and why it was our topic for the day. I learned that soul music is a powerful genre that really touches the heart of the person listening to it as well as the person singing it. It’s music that really comes from your soul.

After her opening message, GRAMMY Museum director, Bob Santelli gave us background on our three speakers, Janelle Monae, Melissa Etheridge and the legendary Patti LaBelle. Following his introduction on their success and humble beginnings, he opened it up to questions with the three artists.

The person that really resonated with me was Melissa Etheridge who spoke about how she spent a long part of her career writing music she didn’t enjoy and how unhappy it made her feel. It wasn’t until she started writing what she wanted to, people started to appreciate her music more and she loved what she was doing.

The workshop ended with the artists singing a song and Patti LaBelle surprised everyone when she volunteered to sing although she didn’t need to. The three artists expressed their souls and showed who they were through their music in different ways which really impressed me.

After the workshop, we spent the day traveling to take pictures with historic monuments and memorials. My absolute favorite was the Lincoln Memorial, where I got to recite the Gettysburg Address in the same location that Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. It was surreal to think that a little over 50 years ago, people fought for the right to be treated as people beyond their skin color and I stood where they stood, ready for change and a new beginning.

We later went to the Kennedy Center where we enjoyed the Washington Ballet to Beatles and Rolling Stone music. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was such a great surprise. The control and form each dancer held showed how hard they work and was so exciting to watch.

Day four was the day we came to the realization that the trip was coming to an end. Most of us had stayed up the night before, packing and cleaning up the rooms. We left early the next morning, sad but grateful for the opportunity. We spent the rest of day traveling and in Arizona where we spent a few hours and had lunch at a brasserie.

Coming home was the hardest because it meant that the trip really was over. We couldn’t wait to see our families and tell them about everything that happened but a little piece of each of us wished we could still be there, freezing our butts off.

I think I can speak for all of the girls and Mr. Kitsu when I say that this trip is something we will carry with us for a lifetime. Between the rich history of Washington, D.C. and the opportunity to be a piece of that history is beyond anything imaginable. For this group of NPACers, D.C. opened our eyes to a world that offers so much beyond mediocrity.

For myself, I learned that if I have a goal or a dream, no matter where in the world I come from, no matter what my background is or what I look like, I can do anything. It’s a reminder and a lesson I will take with me everywhere I go and through everything I do.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in helping us with this experience. I especially want to thank AEG and the GRAMMY Museum for believing in us and seeing that, although we’re from a little program in Nanakuli, there is no title that can keep us from reaching the craziest of our dreams. Mahalo.

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