Celebrating Black Voices

B.E.A.T.S Gives Students of Color a Voice Through A Cappella

For Silvia Ballivian, Meenakshi Menon, and Hannah Choi, the idea of a safe space materializes within the a cappella group Black Experience in America Through Song (B.E.A.T.S.).

“It’s the one place besides my room that I feel comfortable in,” Ballivian, president of B.E.A.T.S. and MCAS ’23 said.

B.E.A.T.S is Boston College’s only a cappella group that centers exclusively on music by Black artists. The group seeks both to amplify the voices and culture of its members and the Black community in the United States within its performances and stands as an activist group for people of color at BC and beyond, according to its mission statement

Ballivian recalls meeting a member of B.E.A.T.S who suggested she join the group. Although she had planned to audition for an a cappella group her first semester of college, Ballivan didn’t end up auditioning for B.E.A.T.S. until her junior year. 

According to Ballivan, during those first two years at BC, she felt like she didn’t belong. It wasn’t until joining B.E.A.T.S. that BC felt like home. 

“As a person of color on campus, it’s very hard to find a place that you feel comfortable in,” Ballivian said. “I didn’t even feel comfortable in the dorm.” 

Ballivan said the member of B.E.A.T.S who talked to her about the group described it as a safe space for people of color and highlighted the group’s inclusivity of all musical backgrounds.

“It’s better late than never,” Ballivan said about her decision to join.

Ballivian said she has always loved singing, especially R&B music. She was a member of her high school chorus from sixth to 12th grade and became president of her school’s chorus during her senior year. Therefore, Ballivian said, it didn’t take much to convince her to audition for B.E.A.T.S.

Similarly, Menon, a member of B.E.A.T.S. and MCAS ’25, said she began singing at age five and has continued to develop her passion for music through B.E.A.T.S. 

“It’s made me connect with music on a completely different level,” Menon said. “I feel like I’m a lot more intimate with it now. And I feel like I’m immersed in it instead of just like singing, if that makes sense.”

But, according to Menon, music is just one of the reasons why she continues in B.E.A.T.S. 

“I think especially as a freshman, I felt it was just such a safe space for people of color on campus,” Menon said. “I think we do a really good job of providing a warm environment to sing and make music and also express any difficulties we’re having with campus life.”

Choi, music director of B.E.A.T.S. and LSEHD ’25, said the welcoming environment of the group was a factor that drew her to B.E.A.T.S.

“I felt like I wasn’t really sure of where I fit in in BC,” Choi said. “Just because I feel like I didn’t really see a lot of people that I could connect with. So it just gave me a place where I could like express all parts of my identity and not feel super alienated because I feel about a lot when I’m walking around campus.”

B.E.A.T.S primarily sings R&B, hip-hop, and soul music. Ballivian said the group begins each performance with a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” commonly known as the Black national anthem. 

“We specifically pick songs about Black empowerment, justice, Black love,” she said.

But for its nine members, B.E.A.T.S is so much more than the songs it sings. Ballivian, Menon, and Choi described B.E.A.T.S as a family—a group binded through a common interest and through the care they have for each other. 

For Ballivian, her involvement in B.E.A.T.S is the reason why she is glad she chose to come to BC despite her doubts about belonging on campus. 

“So there’s many different factors why I don’t really feel like I belong in BC, but the one thing that I can say is that if there is something that I would come back to BC for it’s B.E.A.T.S—to see the members, to speak about my experiences, to hear the songs, because it’s that important to me,”  Ballivian said.

B.E.A.T.S was the only a cappella group that performed as an intermission act for ALC Showdown in 2022. Menon described the experience as being one of her proudest moments.

“I’ve been able to do things I would have never thought I would do, like performing in Conte in front of like 5,000 people,” Menon said. 

Ballivan said she was honored to perform at the event. 

“It was a huge adrenaline rush and a huge honor to you know, to be able to put our name out there and to be able to experience that with the group and the members,” Ballivian said.

Choi said some of her favorite moments spent with the other members of B.E.A.T.S. have been in rehearsals.

“I feel like my favorite moments are actually during practice, even though it gets a little difficult sometimes,” Choi said. “I feel like you can tell that we all care for each other. I think those moments make me realize how much I want to commit and stay in B.E.A.T.S.” 

B.E.A.T.S performed twice in February—in the O’Connell House at the second event of the two-part series Living In Color on Feb. 11 and in Fulton for its annual Black History Month show on Feb. 18. During its Black History Month Show, the group sang eight songs, which the group began rehearsing in the fall semester.

Menon encourages all students to audition for B.E.A.T.S, but especially those who are looking for a place where they can find community. 

“We will find a place for you in B.E.A.T.S,” Menon said. “It’s like a family.” 

February 22, 2023