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The Lost Voices group of Ann Arbor uses their music to help young people

Mike Ball
Lost Voices
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Lost Voices is an organization that helps kids, who are victims of trauma, find hope and healing through the power of music.

WEMU's Jeremy Baldwin speaks to Lost Voices founder Mike Ball about the history of the group and their involvement in this weekend's Ann Arbor Marathon.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Jeremy Baldwin: I am joined here on the phone by Mike Ball, who is the founder of an organization called Lost Voices, and they have been helping young people who have been in various tough situations, helping them find hope and creativity and healing through music--a really interesting, uplifting organization that I've been lucky enough to see at work once. And so, Mike is joining us today to tell us a little bit about Lost Voices and their upcoming events that are part of the Ann Arbor Marathon coming up very soon. Mike, are you there? 

Mike Ball: I am, Jeremy. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Welcome. I'm glad to have you on board. For people who aren't familiar with Lost Voices, could you maybe give us a little background on the organization and how it started and what it is that you all do? 

Mike Ball: Sure. And thank you so much for having me on today. Yeah, we've been around for about 15 years. We basically--we're folk and blues musicians who work with kids to express themselves in song. We let them write anything they want. We create a space where they can dig into the deepest, darkest recesses of their heart. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Mm hmm. 

Mike Ball: And then they write song lyrics that we turn into music. At the end of the experience, we put them on stage with us to sing their songs. And it's a pretty amazing transition that they go through. We're working with kids who are extremely traumatized. They're in residential placement, which means that, for one reason or another, is some of them. We started with incarcerated kids. They were convicted felons. 12 to 18 years old, or we work with human trafficking victims, kids. Just all sorts of kids who who just really are struggling to put their lives together, and we're able to really help them with that. 

Jeremy Baldwin: And how did you get into doing this? What prompted this inspiration? 

Mike Ball: It was sheer accident.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. 

Mike Ball: I'm a writer. My day job is writing. I used to have a syndicated column, which I've retired from since I write books and things like that. And I was asked to go out to a maximum security lockup for teenage boys called Maxi Boys Training School for Career Day to talk about what it was like to write sophomore jokes for a living. And when I saw the kids, I had never really been in contact with kids like that before. I'm a dad and I was a youth hockey coach. I was a high school hockey coach, and I've spent a lot of time around kids my whole life, but never, never had encountered kids that were, you know, when I saw them, I had realized, "My God, that's my kid. They're no different. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Could be. Yeah. 

Mike Ball: Yeah, yeah, they're just on a different path. So, I started. I had been, for many years, I've done creative writing workshops for teenagers and adults. And I could always see what having that outlet did for teenagers. So, I got permission to do a session to start a creative writing group for these kids out at Maxi. And it just overwhelmed me what they did. The depth of their feelings and what they were willing to express and deal with. So, I got a little grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities--the Michigan Humanities Council--to do a documentary on one of my kids. Halfway through the documentary, that documentary is on our website at Lost Voices dot org. By the way, if you want to see it, it's a 15 minute mini doc that I guarantee will leave you crying. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. 

Mike Ball: But halfway through it, I got a call from the Humanities Council and said, "You know, we love what you're doing with these kids. We've got some more money. Would you be willing to do something else? What would you like to do?" And I said, "Roots music." I've been a musician since I was seven years old, and that got me through a lot of problems. That's the thing that we could bring to them, and Lost Voices was born at that moment. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Fantastic. And you've been going for about 15 years, and I assume you've had kind of an interesting last year and a half like everybody? 

Mike Ball: It was crazy. We were set up to do our most aggressive year of programs with the kids. We had all these programs lined up at different facilities, and everything was just rolling along. And then, wham! Literally, the day before we started at Grand Rapids with the Manasa Project. These were all sex trafficking survivors, teenage girls that are, oh, about 14, 15 years old. Literally, the day before we were due to start with them with the lockdown tape. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. 

Mike Ball: It was like, "Oh no!" So we had to learn about a thing called Zoom. You might have heard of it.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah, a lot of people had to do that. 

Mike Ball: Yeah. And we converted everything to that successfully. 

Jeremy Baldwin: That's great, though. I mean, being able to find a way to make it happen is important, I think, for, you know, for lots of things, but certainly for this and for people in that situation. Well, OK. So, you guys are out there doing that good work, trying to help young people and coming up this coming weekend, you have some special events or interactions you're having with the marathon happening, right? 

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Mike Ball: Yes, this is really amazing. We are honored to have been chosen as a featured charity for the 2021 Ann Arbor Marathon. We worked with them last year when they were going virtual as well and got to know them, and, this year, they're back live and in person. There's, I believe, there's right around 2000 runners registered. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Wow. 

Mike Ball: And various runs. I'm not a runner, so I don't. I know there's a 5K and a 10k and full marathon, half marathon. There may be some other things. I would be a walk-a-thon. So we're providing some music for the marathon, drawing on the talent that we have, among our facilitators and supporters. We're going to be there. There is an expo on Saturday at the 242 Church. I don't know if I'm saying that right, but it's on the west side, a beautiful, big church. There's going to be an expo where all the runners are going to be picking up their numbers and registering and all that sort of thing. So, throughout that, from noon to four o'clock on Saturday, I'll be there with Josh White Jr. and Jen Cass and Bobby Pennock and some other Lost Voices musicians just singing and having a good time entertaining the crowd and maybe letting them know a little bit more about us, but mostly entertaining. 

Jeremy Baldwin: That's cool. That's cool. And then you're going to have people along the route as well? 

Mike Ball: Yes, this is really cool. So, Sunday, the marathon starts at 8:00, and we're going to have Lost Voices buskers, busking stations along the route. So, as the runners go by, they'll have a singer standing there to sing to them and support them. We're also doing inspirational signs, not having run a marathon, I really don't know that. But I guess it's really important for them to get, you know, just a little boost on the way.

Jeremy Baldwin: You can do it. Yeah. 

Mike Ball: Yeah, you can do it. Exactly.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. 

Mike Ball: So what I did is I went into the last fifteen years of Lost Voices lyrics that the kids have written and just pulled out lines. There's lines like "You should have seen me overcoming," or "All my fears I put behind me," "Cry a river, build a bridge." These incredible little things. 

Jeremy Baldwin: It's beautiful. 

Mike Ball: They're all song lyrics that these troubled kids came up with.

Jeremy Baldwin: That's fantastic. Way to, you know, use that stuff to hopefully help help those runners get across the finish line. 

Mike Ball: Well, you know, I'll tell you, it's helped me get across the finish line for everything I've done for 15 years.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. 

Mike Ball: Inspired by these kids. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Well, that's the one thing, I guess. I mean, you know, better than I do the power of music. Everybody has felt that at one point or another in their life, I think. It's so universal, and it can make a difference. You know, it may not solve all the problems of the world, but it can help. 

Mike Ball: It does. It's that thing that you can always just rest on. It's like having a comfortable chair.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. 

Mike Ball: You say, "You know, it doesn't solve everything. But by golly, this really changes things for me." 

Jeremy Baldwin: And creating something, you know, even if it's, you know, just a little song, you know, feels good. 

Mike Ball: Yes. And getting affirmation for it. I think the important thing about this is a lot of these children have lived lives that were transactional. They just have to trade, drug running or whatever it is, for survival their whole lives. And this is a case where there's no transaction, what they say, what they think is important, and it's accepted. And then, we put them on stage, you know, and any performer will tell you, we're all applause junkies.

Jeremy Baldwin: That's why you get up on stage. Yeah. 

Mike Ball: And an audience. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Right. 

Mike Ball: A round of applause. Those kids get that maybe for the first time in their lives, people not only care about what they think, they will give them applause and show that care. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah. 

Mike Ball: And it's just kind of life-changing for them. I know it's not the biggest thing that could ever happen, but it's flips a switch in them, like, "Wow, I'm better than I thought I was." 

Jeremy Baldwin: Fantastic. Well, it's an amazing program that you guys are involved with, and I encourage everyone out there to, you know, go. If you're not running, if you are running, look for the buskers out there or at the check-in point, or if you're rooting on somebody that you love out there, or if you're just around town and you want to check out some music that's happening this weekend. And once again, this is Mike Ball, the founder of Lost Voices. And where can people find out more information about Lost Voices, Mike? 

Mike Ball: Go to Lost Voices dot org. We have quite a bit of information. You can actually hear some of the kids' music. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah.

Mike Ball: Sometimes, we can't always bring it out in public, but you can hear it. You can read the lyrics, and you can get in contact with me through the website or mike at lost voices dot org. I'll be happy to to talk to you about it. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Fantastic. Well, thanks for talking to us today, Mike. I really appreciate it. And good luck with the all the marathon activities. I'm sure it'll be great. And keep in touch. Let us know what's going on in the future. 

Mike Ball: Thank you so much. 

Jeremy Baldwin: Thanks, Mike. 

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— Jeremy Baldwin is the host of the Roots Music Project on WEMU. Contact him at @RMPJbaldwin or email him at studio@wemu.org.

Jeremy Baldwin was born in Oak Park, IL and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago. An early concert experience seeing Steve Goodman at Navy Pier in Chicago helped spark his interest in Folk and Roots music and long hours listening to Stuart Rosenberg’s ‘Earth Club’ and ‘Radio Gumbo’ programs for WBEZ sent his musical tastes in every direction. He has hosted the local version of The Roots Music Project at 89.1 WEMU since 2005. Before that he honed his radio skills in Classic Country at WSDS 1480 AM in Salem, Michigan. In addition to his radio career, Jeremy has led University groups around the world for the last 24 years. He is married and is a longtime resident of Ypsilanti, MI.
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