LU Bhangra was one of the performing groups in the Lehigh Strong variety show. The program is raising funds for local organizations that have done critical work during the pandemic. (Courtesy of Matthew Gunton)

Lehigh Strong variety show brings community together during COVID-19 pandemic

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A variety show streamed on June 27 on Lehigh’s YouTube channel was hosted by Omogolo Bishop Pikinini, ‘23, and Adrian Suarez, ‘22, to support essential workers in the Lehigh Valley during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The show highlighted five nonprofits: the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley, New Bethany Ministries, St. Luke’s Community Health and Preventative Medicine departments, the Lehigh Valley Health Network Street Medicine program and the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. The show is also accepting donations on a GoFundMe page; the page has raised $763 as of July 1. 

As of the time of publication, the Lehigh Strong variety show has raised $763. The page is still active and accepting contributions. 

Planning for the variety show began in March, and Suarez began reaching out to a number of campus and community organizations. The livestream was originally supposed to occur on June 6, but was postponed in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the death of George Floyd.  

“We had to respect that time because the program we had created was all COVID-19 related,” said Marilyn Nguyen, ‘20, who helped plan the event. “So streaming the show the week after all the news broke out was not ideal.”

After several internal discussions within the group, the organizers decided that it would be a tedious process to re-edit the show with new videos acknowledging the BLM movement. 

They decided to share disclaimer messages in the show’s introduction and through their social media posts, to be transparent about the fact that the show was recorded prior to the murder of Floyd and the global protests. 

Joey Kawash, ‘19, ‘20G, said after the events surrounding Floyd’s murder, Bradbury-Sullivan asked the team to send their donations to a local Black-led group in the Lehigh Valley. 

He said the show was part showcasing student artwork and talents, and part showing what groups have been doing within the community.

“Hopefully we get a lot of donations, but times are tough as a result of all that is going on,” Kawash said. “We’d like to spread awareness and showcase the great work that they do, at the very least.”

The show featured performances by Bad Company, Leela, Off the Record, the Lehigh Melismatics, LU Bhangra, Lehigh University Athletes, the Marching 97, LU Swing Dance and the Lehigh University Choir. 

Nandini Yellamelli, ‘23, treasurer of Leela, said portions of the video that the group submitted were recorded back at Lehigh. In light of the cancellation of Dance Fest, the group wanted to show what they had learned prior to going remote. 

“One of the reasons why we were so excited to participate in the variety show is because it is so important for us all, the entire Lehigh community, to show how grateful we are to our frontline healthcare workers,” Yellamelli said. “As artists, especially during this time where so much is affecting our world, we believe that art can bring people together and that this variety show would be a good way to show our solidarity with the Lehigh community.” 

There were also messages from Lehigh alumni, staff, student leaders, Bethlehem businesses and the nonprofit organizations featured. 

The Lehigh Melismatics a cappella group also performed for the Lehigh Strong variety show. (Photo Courtesy of Matthew Gunton)

Student artwork was displayed throughout the program and there were individual performances from Frances Colon, ‘21, Alea Oakman, ‘20, Nadine Clopton, ‘19, ‘20G, Megan Carroll, ‘20, Christianna Pepingco, ‘20, and Benjamin Davis, ‘22G. 

After spending years focusing on a science career, Davis has recently been trying to become a more active musician.

When he heard about the show, he thought it was a great opportunity to put his energy toward a cause that is bigger than himself. 

“Our essential workers, who have been out there keeping the world running, are often the ones who are most at risk as well,” Davis said. “So it is super important to support them and it has been inspiring to see Lehigh students get together and take action to be a part of that. I’m really glad I get to be a part of it.” 

Davis said he had been working on the song he performed for the stream for about a decade and instrumentation was written already. The lyrics were written more recently with messaging to inspire listeners about doing actions that impact others, he said.

Yellamelli and her team are appreciative of the opportunity to share their work to support the community. 

“Expressing our gratitude through dance was a very meaningful experience, so we are very excited to have taken part in this program,” Yellamelli said. 

Even with the amount of planning and work that has gone into putting on this event, Nguyen is grateful for the experience and opportunity to work with the rest of the team, which included Victoria Collum, ‘22, Matthew Gunton, ‘22, Diego Lara, ‘22,  Kawash, Courteney Parry, ‘22, Pikinini, Benjamin Metz, ‘22, Winnie Gu, ‘19, ‘21G, Steven Escobar-Mendez, ‘22 and Brianna Maslonka, ‘22. 

“I’m really happy to have worked with other students who are so passionate and who wanted to raise funds for the community,” Nguyen said. “We didn’t have to plan this event for two and a half months, so I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done. I think having something like this, where we actually incorporate the community, is really cool.” 

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