A New York City native who lived much of his childhood in California, Belmont junior Jackson Wells’ life to date has spanned both coasts of the United States, but it’s a faraway locale that has captured his imagination. For this songwriting major and pop performer the Belmont motto “From Here to Anywhere” has taken on dramatic significance as his long-held fascination with Chinese culture has carried him to the heights of fame overseas, with fans literally numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
“After taking eight years of Spanish in school, I just found myself getting tired of it and started developing a real interest in Chinese,” said Wells, who began studying Mandarin in high school and is also minoring now in Chinese at Belmont. Belmont was a perfect choice for Wells due to the University’s prominence in music business fields and its location in Music City, but it also keeps the young singer-songwriter close to home as his family moved to Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee several years ago. And the Tennessee connections helped launch an unexpected journey that’s led to unimaginable success.
Knowing his interest in the Chinese culture, the Chinese tutor of one Jackson’s school friends invited him to go to China in 2012, for what Jackson thought was an opportunity to teach English to students there. Instead, he was encouraged to bring his guitar and asked to perform in the International Youth Music Festival in Chengdu. That year Jackson played in front of about 5,000 people. Return trips saw his audience gradually grow, and his prominence also began to rise exponentially on YouTube, with three music videos garnering more than 1.8 million views internationally. Two years later, Wells’ popularity in China has exploded. His most recent trip in August found him performing as a headliner at the festival, this time playing to more than 470,000 fans over three nights.
Belmont’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America scored significant acclaim this week with numerous national awards at the parent organization’s national conference, held Oct. 10-14 in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Bonnie Riechert, associate professor and chair of Belmont’s Department of Public Relations, was honored for her work as faculty adviser to the Belmont Chapter of PRSSA. Riechert received the national PRSSA Outstanding Faculty Adviser Award, based on service to the PRSSA Chapter through dedication and creative chapter guidance, effective student motivation, exceptional contributions to public relations education, supportive chapter advocacy and representation within the academic department and with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) sponsor Chapter and its members. The award includes an engraved trophy and a cash prize. Accredited in Public Relations and a member of the PRSA College of Fellows, Riechert has served as the Belmont PRSSA faculty adviser since coming to the faculty in 2006. She is the current president of the PRSA Nashville Chapter.
Chapel marks launch of Belmont’s Shoebox Drive
Belmont students Alina-Sarai and David Gal-Chis spoke to faculty, staff and students about Operation Christmas Child and their experience with the program during a convocation event held on Wednesday in the Chapel. The Gal-Chis siblings received Operation Christmas Child boxes in Romania as young children.
The world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, Operation Christmas Child uses gift-filled shoeboxes to share God’s love in a tangible way with needy children around the world. Since 1993, nondenominational nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse has collected and delivered more than 113 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in over 150 countries through Operation Christmas Child. More than 500,000 volunteers worldwide, with more than 100,000 of those in the United States, are involved in collecting, shipping and distributing shoebox gifts.
“Their mission is not just to bring joy to children. It goes beyond that. It has to do with the love of Jesus Christ and being able to show that through the gift of giving,” said David.
Belmont University’s Black Student Association members Keayana Robinson, Cameron Bryant and Kristoff Hart have been featured in The Huffington Post for their song and video “I Dig the Skin I’m In,” an empowering testament to their refusal to be anything less than comfortable in their own skin despite the things that have been said to them.
The article entitled “MC Shakes Off Being Told She’s ‘Too Dark’ With Funk and Grace” discusses the message behind the song that addresses modern racism and bullying.
Robinson told The Huffington Post that it took time for her to become confident enough to speak out about her experiences. Part of the journey, she said, was simply “being able to sit down and say those words aloud.”
“I’m not hearing your lies. I look great in my eyes. This may be a surprise, but I’m cool with me,” she sings in part of the song’s chorus.
The song and its message came about pretty organically, according to Robinson.
“We were sitting around and we just stumbled upon a beat and we started listening and Kristoff and I started singing and we decided to write to it,” she told The Huffington Post. “Once we got the message that we wanted, we just took off from there.”
The trio’s collaboration has been met with what Robinson describes as a “nice, welcoming response” from the Belmont community.
“We’re all about embracing differences. … I think that it’s definitely extremely important for members of the African-American community to embrace their differences and their skin and their flaws, because they’re beautiful,” Robinson said.
Next Sunday night, Belmont University will be the only college in the nation to have two students competing in the Miss America pageant, broadcast live on ABC from Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Sept. 14 program will feature Belmont senior Hayley Lewis, who was crowned Miss Tennessee June 21, as well as junior Megan Swanson, who was named Miss Nebraska earlier this summer.
Lewis earned the highest score in the talent category on the night of the Tennessee pageant for her performance of “I (Who Have Nothing).” She will defer from the University for one year to travel the state as Gov. Bill Haslam’s spokesperson for Character Education as well as the goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network before returning to campus in August 2015 to complete her studies in music business and classical vocal performance. Previously at Belmont, Lewis provided game day support for the basketball and baseball teams and was an active participant in the Beltones.
Swanson, who performed ”You Raise Me Up” during the Nebraska scholarship pageant, is studying music and plans to become a motivational speaker and singer/songwriter.
Both Belmont undergraduates are taking this year off from school to attend to their state-wide duties.