'When I'm on stage, it's just like nothing can stop me'

IU senior Jasmine Dennie was born to perform.

Both of Dennie's parents were musicians/singers, and she and her siblings, brother Terrance and sister Terrilyn, grew up in Gary, Indiana, learning to play instruments and singing in the church choir.

"I always joke about this," Dennie said, laughing. "We did not play; we came in the house and we cooked, we cleaned and we sang. Growing up, music was everywhere."

Although performing is in her veins, it was her siblings' involvement in Camp SOUL and the IU Soul Revue while attending Indiana University Bloomington that gave Dennie the guidance and push she needed to continue pursuing her musical dreams.

"IU has been life-changing for me," said Dennie, who's studying arts management in IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs and plans to attend grad school after receiving her bachelor's degree. "I love it here. I come on this campus and I feel like I can be somebody, like I can be successful."

Jasmine Dennie Photo by IU Communications

Coming from a family that is both musical and educated, Dennie always had a desire to attend college. But complications from diabetes and some personal issues sidetracked her for a while. Dennie was working at a hotel in South Bend and traveling with a local theater group when she received a call from her brother, who Dennie refers to as her hero, encouraging her to move to Bloomington.

Hanging out one day as her brother rehearsed with Soul Revue, Dennie was approached by the director at the time, Tyron Cooper.

"He came up to me and said 'Hey shorty, are you trying to get back into school?' I said 'Yeah,'" Dennie recalled. "So, he took me under his wing and helped me apply and I got accepted."    

Cooper, who has a long history with Dennie's family through IU, said that as an educator and mentor to many students, he simply saw a student who he knew had potential and who simply needed a helping hand.

"I knew she was smart, and I knew she possessed the intellectual fortitude to be successful in this environment," he said. "She was always mature and ahead of her peers in how she processed and synthesized knowledge, and she was always self-motivated and a leader. And those are the types of students we need. I also knew when she says something, she means it. She doesn't beat around the bush. So, when she said she really wanted to go to school, I knew she meant it." 

Dennie enrolled at IU in August 2014 and hasn't looked back. In addition to being a vocalist for Soul Revue, she works as a promotion assistant at IU's African American Arts Institute, where she helps with marketing and promotion for the institute's three ensembles: Soul Revue, the African American Choral Ensemble and the African American Dance Company. She also performs in "Welcome to College!," a play for incoming freshmen, and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Dennie also works as a counselor for Camp SOUL, which she attended as a high school student. Founded by Cooper in 2002, the camp is for high school students, who spend six days emerging themselves in performance, studying Negro spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, soul, funk and hip-hop. They also learn about the IU Bloomington campus and college experience.

Dennie meets with Ignoisco Miles, director of Camp SOUL. Photo by IU Communications

"Being a part of Camp SOUL is amazing and life-changing," said Dennie, who will serve as lead counselor this summer. "You meet all these different people who come from all different places, but you are all connected by one thing, and that is music and success. 

"You want to make it from where you are to somewhere else. It's hard, but you have so much respect for the people leading it because they are putting so much into you and believe in you. I learned all that in one week; I learned that the first time I attended."

Dennie's involvement as a counselor at Camp SOUL has made a difference not just for her but for others. Ignoisco Miles, director of the camp, calls Dennie both a natural performer and a natural leader who lets the spotlight shine on those she is leading. 

Due to her rich history with the camp, Dennie also brings a perspective not all counselors have, Miles said. 

"Because she has been a part of Camp SOUL before, Jasmine truly understands what the campers are going through," Miles said. "She knows the students are learning a ton of music in a short period of time. They are getting a lot thrown at them, and she is able to encourage them and tell them it can be done -- because she's done it herself." 

Dennie credits Cooper, in part, with providing her the discipline and unconditional support she needed to be successful. And both Camp SOUL and IU Soul Revue have made a huge impact on her time at IU, she said, in addition to an outlet to perform, which for Dennie means everything.

Dennie performing with the IU Soul Revue.  Photo courtesy of the African American Arts Institute

"When I'm on stage, it's just like nothing can stop me," she said. "I just go for it. When I'm on stage, you can't tell me nothing. I just perform. I do things I don't normally do. My kicks are a little higher, my jumps might be a little higher. Performing just gives me this joy. I feel the best when I'm on stage."   

Despite a few detours along the way to IU, Dennie said she has done "a total 360." And she said there is no place she'd rather be.

"I'm a double minority," she said. "I'm black and I'm female, so I have to work twice as hard to be just as good. You have to make sure you are pounding the pavement. But I'm able to wake up and know I have a purpose. IU did that for me."

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