“The Pythagorean theorem is important, but if your soul is empty, it doesn’t mean anything,” UBU Project Founder David Simmons told a sold-out crowd at the Phoenix Center for the Arts Monday night.
David Simmons considers himself a “thriving survivor.” It has been just over ten years since he received a second chance at life after a failed suicide attempt — a gift that he has refused to squander. After learning the startling statistic that the leading cause of death for children ages 10 – 14 in Arizona was suicide, he immediately understood his mission, and founded The UBU Project with the goal to end youth suicide, addiction, and bullying.
On Monday evening at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, David Simmons and his brother, Academy Award-winning actor JK Simmons, performed as part of an emotional and uplifting benefit concert to help raise money for the project. Growing up, the Simmons brothers were immersed in music and understood the importance of the arts.
Through “prevention residencies,” the UBU Project augments a school’s existing curriculum with songwriting and music to help students address difficult topics. These types exercises, which are student-led, help kids learn to love themselves through songwriting and music, and also builds other life skills necessary for battling depression like self-confidence, creativity, and leadership.
As part of the event, David Simmons demonstrated the power of songwriting by tasking the audience to write a song about “hope.” He engaged the audience to define what “hope” means to them, and then, using an ABAB rhyme structure, collaboratively formed four lines of lyrics with ten syllables each. Simmons then performed the audience’s song in three diverse musical styles (reggae, blues, and country), and voila — a song was born.
David Simmons performed several of his original songs from his inspirational 2019 album, Hope, throughout the show, but his favorite moments were those performing on stage with his brother for the first time in over a decade.
Despite the years since they last performed together, David Simmons tells us, “… it was as if we’d been singing together all our lives. There’s just something about gigging with family who are also friends.”
JK Simmons joined his brother during several songs, including a cover of the Eagle’s song “Desperado,” and an animated performance of “Man of La Mancha” from the musical of the same name (fitting, considering the project’s “quixotic” mission).
The audience also witnessed first-hand some of what The UBU Project has achieved. Youth performers and former residency students Cheyenne Newberry, Isaiah Tilson, Phoebe Marlowe, and Danica Rollier, demonstrated their exceptional talent by performing several emotional songs written by themselves, or other students (some as young as 5th grade).
Cheyenne Newberry also shared her heartrending story about her PTSD, anxiety, depression, and abuse, which led to a previous suicide attempt, and expressed how The UBU Project’s songwriting classes helped her to keep going. “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes the middle of nowhere is where you find yourself,” she quoted.
“The UBU Project ‘Light Your Corner of the World’ Benefit Concert was nothing short of magical, inspiring and transformative. An unqualified success on every level,” David Simmons tells us. “I’m humbled and encouraged by the level and depth of support from the UBU community of champions from around the country.”
In just over 18 months, The UBU Project has already brought their curriculum to over 7,000 students, and in a cross-section of over 1,000 UBU Project students, they have seen a 33% increase in comprehension and application of UBU’s “treasure chest” words: hope, resilience, self-compassion, and empathy.
During the concert, David Simmons expressed how proud he was of his brother, JK Simmons, for “never giving up,” even when he was a struggling actor with just $1.50 in his pocket. Today, he is a multi-award-winning actor with a successful career. But it was clear, while watching the interaction between the Simmons brothers, that it was JK who was most proud of David, for not only his refusal to give up, but for the difference he is clearly making in the lives of kids across the country.
“I was blessed to be able to join my brother, David, onstage at the sold out Phoenix Center For The Arts, raising funds so that his UBU Project can prosper and grow, continuing toward his goal of ending youth suicide, addiction and bullying in Arizona youth,” JK Simmons told Awards Focus. “I’m so proud of the work he’s doing, making a difference in these kids’ lives. It was a beautiful, fun, heart-breaking and heart-warming, and hard-rocking evening. Let’s do it again next year!”
To learn more about The UBU Project, and to donate money to this great cause, please visit https://ubuproject.org.
Awards Focus was a proud sponsor of this event.