Being the Change
When Devonte Thompson trains budding young musicians at the Manhattan Citadel Corps in East Harlem, he sees in them a lot of himself.
Thompson began attending the corps when he was eight and learned how to play several musical instruments. Now 19, he is the youngest member of the New York Staff Band (NYSB).
“People were there for me when I was young and I recognize how much of a difference and change they made in my life,” says Thompson, who displays a humble and unassuming spirit. “I want to make that same difference and change in other people’s lives.”
Thompson grew up in Harlem with his single mother and three siblings. The Boy Scouts of America first drew him to the Manhattan Citadel, but he soon learned about the after school program and music school. He became a regular at both programs where he received meals and help with his homework.
“It was like a community,” he said. “It was a second home where I could go to have fun with my friends and just enjoy our time together. One thing led to another and—I’m still here.”
Today, Thompson plays in the corps band and is the Singing Company leader. He also plays in the Greater New York (GNY) Youth Band and Chorus and is a featured soloist in both groups.
Sometimes, Thompson fills in at the corps for Bandmaster Nathan Power, who called Thompson “one of the finest examples of Salvationism” he has seen.
“He is an example of how Jesus uses our programs to bring people to Him, gets them to belong, and believe,” Power said. “Devonte has a commitment and a passion for Christ that is subtle but contagious when you spend any time with him.
“He plays multiple instruments to a fantastic level and is readily able to speak and pray when called upon.”
Thompson, who can play seven instruments, often chooses the drums and bass guitar for praise and worship on Sunday mornings. He credits Jonathan Quatela, an alumni of the NYSB and an officer, as a major influence.
“Everything I know how to play, I learned at The Salvation Army,” Thompson said.
On Tuesdays, Thompson teaches music theory to the younger kids at the corps and how to play brass instruments and piano in the music school he once attended.
Passing it along
“I feel like I’m giving back what was given to me,” he said. “I learned something and now I’m teaching exactly what I learned. This is what my teachers wanted me to do. This is what they were there for—so I could help people after me.
“I’m just grateful I was able to go into the program for free. Now I’m able to do the same thing in other children’s lives. I know what my leaders have done for me. They’ve helped me through a lot of things. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have those people in my life. It means a lot to me that I can be one of those people for other children in my position.”
Thompson’s musical talent on the baritone landed him a spot in the NYSB, which he joined last September.
Being the youngest member of such a prestigious band is “nerve–wracking,” Thompson said, especially when he found himself sitting next to one of his heroes. Thompson plays the euphonium in the GNY Youth Band and looked to Aaron VanderWeele, who plays that instrument in the NYSB, as an inspiration.
A dream come true
“It’s weird how this guy, who I was always listening to on YouTube, was now sitting right next me in a rehearsal,” Thompson said. “It gets me nervous, especially since I’m the youngest.
“I know how good all of these other players are and I have to strive to be as good or better. It makes me nervous, but at the end of the day, I know we’re all there for the same reason and that’s to spread the message of Jesus Christ. We strive to be examples of Jesus Christ and to spread the message throughout the world.”
VanderWeele said he heard about Thompson’s advanced ability a few years ago and linked up with him for a few lessons.
“This quiet, humble kid made a beautiful sound on the euphonium—it was a pleasure to coach him a couple of times,” VanderWeele said. “Since then, through avenues like the NYSB’s Future All Stars Weekend and Star Lake Musicamp, I’ve witnessed him blossom into a wonderful Christian young man who has a keen desire to share his testimony through Christian music making and fellowship.”
Star Lake has turned out to be a special place for Thompson, who has attended the music camp for years. In 2013, he rekindled his relationship with Christ there during Youth Councils. That weekend, the “Jesus Theater” presentation and the speakers changed his life.
Growing in Christ
“It was good to have all my friends around,” he said. “It’s good to have people around me who are willing to make the same sacrifices.”
Captains Antonio and Jennifer Rosamilia, corps officers at the Manhattan Citadel, said Thompson has grown physically, spiritually, and musically and shown “excellent integrity at every level.”
“We can’t wait for what God has in store for Devonte and we remain in prayer,” Captain Antonio said.
Besides music, Thompson said he learned humility and integrity at The Salvation Army.
“I was taught to be humble like Jesus was and to live a life resembling His,” he said. “I was taught not to boast if I’m successful and to put others before me and to help others.
“That’s why I do what I do now and why I am the way I am now.”
Thompson has helped Rosamilia conduct open–air meetings and feed the hungry in the East Harlem neighborhood.
A neighborhood oasis
“That corps is there for those specific people,” Thompson said. “They have a place to go and know that they are loved.
“That’s an important part for kids, too. Not everyone has the best family situation. That corps is there for the people who don’t have a safe home to go to. There are people at the corps who kids can trust and rely on. That’s a reason I’m there. I can be an example to the kids if they don’t have that at home.”
When it comes to maintaining his devotional life, Thompson has a bounty from which to choose. Bible verses come to his phone each day and he is fed spiritually at every Salvation Army event.
It all begins with church on Sunday.
Monday is rehearsal for the GNY Youth Band and GNY Chorus—and devotions.
Tuesday is music school at the corps—and devotions.
Wednesday is praise and worship practice at the corps—and devotions. He also hears a devotional at his NYSB rehearsal on Wednesdays.
Children are the future
“What I learn in those devotions I try to live the rest of the week and to get stronger in Christ,” Thompson said.
“At the end of the day, Christ is the most important thing. Living my life resembling Him just makes my life and the lives of everyone else that much better.”
Thompson is a sophomore at Hunter College, where he studies accounting and computer science. He hopes to work for The Salvation Army someday and teach music.
“I want to continue in The Salvation Army doing what I’m doing now,” he said.
Thompson said he believes in the territory’s commitment to Young Adult Empowerment, one of the four elements of the territory’s “Strikepoint” agenda.
“It’s good and important to have youth my age lead those children because they’re closer to my generation,” he said. “We can be examples to them as they go through the things we went through. We can show them the way.”
by Robert Mitchell