GAY global news

Spoleto event spotlighting LGBTQ youth, children of Holocaust survivors’ stories

Written by

Music is a language that transcends barriers, invoking empathy and understanding across those of differing nationalities, backgrounds and mother tongues.

Such is the ethos behind Tell Your Story, a program that pairs Charleston orchestral fellows with members of the community to create an amalgamation of music and story, weaving the two distinct art forms into a kind of auditory memoir.

“We tried to think of the best way really to integrate the community,” said Renate Rohlfing, an award-winning pianist, music psychotherapist and associate professor at the Berklee College of Music who is both the creator and director of Tell Your Story.

“We wanted to figure out a way for the musicians to understand a little more of the creative practices and the voices and the histories of the people that are residents.”

This year’s edition of the program is set to kick off Spoleto Festival USA 2024 with a special performance at Festival Hall, 56 Beaufain St., at 7 p.m. on May 22, just before the festivities begin.

Tell Your Story’s community partnerships this year are We Are Family, an organization that champions LGBTQ+ rights and creates safe, affirming community spaces in South Carolina, and the Children of Holocaust Survivors, affiliated with the Charleston Jewish Federation.

“We were looking at communities where we felt like (because of) their stories and the timing, that amplifying those stories would be really beneficial,” said Rohlfing.

Jonatan Guerrero Ramirez, community and events director at We Are Family, explained that the partnership with Tell Your Story will spotlight stories from youth in the LGBTQ+ community, bringing awareness to voices who aren’t necessarily, in his words, “Google-able,” but whose perspectives deserve to be witnessed.

“(It’s) a really important time to do that right now, especially with the current political climate that we’re in with the current status that our youth are facing,” said Guerrero Ramirez.

He believes that Tell Your Story’s blend of music and storytelling makes the performance something that can resonate with any audience member.

“When you read sheet music, it doesn’t matter where you are from or what language you speak. Music is literally the same in every language. And what’s cool about this is our youth are speaking in their native-speaking English, and what is interesting about marrying their story with music, it enhances the story, and it also helps those who don’t speak English,” said Guerrero Ramirez, who also has a background in music.

Rohlfing chose to partner with the Charleston Jewish Federation prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and the ensuing Israel-Palestine conflict but felt that these stories will add a dynamic perspective to conversations about the situation.

Shirley Mills, a child of two Holocaust survivors, was shaped by the intergenerational trauma of the unspeakable violence her parents endured and seeks to ensure that their memory, and those of others like them, is not shrouded by the mists of time.

“It’s my legacy to tell my parents’ story,” said Milles. “And I always think of the power of one. Even if I reach one student or one person and they do something, then I’ve done a good job.”

She worries about the growing antisemitism witnessed in the United States and beyond.

“I’m a fearless person,” she said, referencing the kind of horror that she was warned of by her parents, “but I have to tell you the truth, I’m terrified right now.”

Mills hopes that programs like Tell Your Story will be part of a wider push to preserve teaching about the Holocaust, slavery and other instances of massive human cruelty in order to prevent history from repeating itself.

Both Mills and Guerrero Ramirez feel that the current social and political landscape begs for voices from the likes of their organizations to be heard. And music, to them, represents a perfect vehicle.

Tell Your Story will be free to the public, and all members of the community are invited to join. For more information, visit


Leave a Comment