Why Chicago's Hamilton is using his platform to help kids with epilepsy.

Have you ever been in the room where it happens? The actual room where Broadway musicals happen?

Imagine walking into that room. Now imagine seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda sitting there next to other iconic theater legends, waiting for you to begin your audition. It’s the biggest job interview of your life.

You start sweating. You get this random twitch. Dry mouth — you get the driest mouth ever. You forget all your lines.


All of the above would happen to anyone. Except for Miguel Cervantes.

At the very moment of his audition, he was thinking of another room.

All photos are taken by Joan Marcus, courtesy of "Hamilton: An American Musical" in Chicago.

The birth of his daughter Adelaide in 2015 brought indescribable joy to the Cervantes family.

At that time, Miguel had starred in several Broadway shows, including "If/Then," "American Idiot," and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." His wife Kelly was working successfully as an NYC event planner. Everything was going as planned for the young family.

But then, Adelaide started to get sick. Doctors couldn’t properly diagnose what was going on with her at first. Miguel — who was booking fewer and fewer auditions — decided to step away from theater to focus on taking care of Adelaide and his son, Jackson, while trying his hand at other business opportunities.

“I’m done with theater, unless Lin-Manuel Miranda calls me,” Cervantes recalls telling his friends. But then, Miranda called.

On the same day Adelaide had just been hooked up to a myriad of test machines, Miranda called Cervantes to come audition in the final callback to become Alexander Hamilton. He had to leave one room for another.

Half of my brain was over there wondering what's going to happen back at the hospital. The other half was ... auditioning for the biggest show and the biggest role ever,” Cervantes says.

Spoiler alert: He crushed it. Miguel Cervantes is Chicago’s Alexander Hamilton. He credits his worry about Adelaide for helping to land the role.

He didn’t have the dry mouth, the sweat, the random twitches brought about by nervousness. Even legendary theater producer Oskar Eustis seemed to notice something in Cervantes’ face, in his demeanor and body during his audition. Cervantes had only one thought going through his mind: “This is an errand. I've got to run this errand so I can get back to the hospital to my daughter," he recalls. “And I wasn't overwhelmed.”

As he takes the stage each night as Hamilton, Cervantes recognizes this role gives him the opportunity to help his daughter and other children like her.

Since moving to Chicago, Kelly and Miguel haven’t throw away their shot at making a huge difference for children with epilepsy like Adelaide, who was diagnosed with infantile spasms — one of the rarer forms of childhood epilepsy that can have serious long-term consequences.

Kelly reached out to Chicago-based Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) and together they launched a successful fundraising campaign. This included a raffle of Hamilton-themed prizes, like the chance to go caroling with the cast.

The support from the Hamilton community was nothing short of incredible, said Cervantes. “When I asked who [of the cast] was coming with me, who wanted to be a part of this, everyone, everyone was willing to do it, and as incredibly talented people they are all ready to share it and help the cause in any way they can,” he says.

The Hamilton world has supported several other causes along the way as well, from Miranda’s work with Planned Parenthood, to Javier Muñoz's work with STOMP Out Bullying, and the company's work with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

“I know how lucky I am to be able to use this platform for so much good,” Miguel says of the opportunity to help find a cure.  

“My daughter’s fight is the most important part of my life, and Hamilton is the vehicle that allows me to lead that charge. My daughter is absolutely why I was able to get here, and now Hamilton is helping us to get where we need to go.”

Every night Miguel Cervantes gets to be in both rooms. The first one is the room where one of the greatest musicals of all time happens. The second one is the room where his beautiful daughter falls asleep. Both always elicit standing ovations.

Watch the story of Adelaide and how Miguel and his family aren't throwing away their shot at finding a cure for her and the millions of others affected by epilepsy.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
True

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

Keep Reading Show less

As I was doomscrolling through Twitter yesterday, the wording of an Associated Press post caught my eye. "The Supreme Court will allow absentee ballots in North Carolina to be received and counted up to 9 days after Election Day, in a win for Democrats," it read.

A win for Democrats? Surely they meant a win for Americans? For voters? For democracy?


Keep Reading Show less
Photo courtesy of Claudia Romo Edelman
True

When the novel coronavirus hit the United States, life as we knew it quickly changed. As many people holed up in their homes, some essential workers had to make the impossible choice of going to work or quitting their jobs— a choice they continue to make each day.

Because over 80 percent of working Hispanic adults provide essential services for the U.S. economy, the Hispanic community is disproportionately affected. Hispanic families are also much more likely to live in multigenerational households, carrying the extra risk of infecting the most vulnerable. In fact, Hispanics are 20 times more likely than other patients to test positive for COVID-19.

Claudia Romo Edelman saw a community in desperate need of guidance and support. And she created Hispanic Star, a non-profit designed to help Hispanic people in the U.S. pull together as a proud, unified group and overcome barriers — the most pressing of which is the effects of the pandemic.

Because the Hispanic community is so diverse, unification is, and was, an enormous challenge.

Photo credit: Hispanic Star

Keep Reading Show less

Electing Donald Trump to be president of the United States set an incredibly ugly example for the nation's youth.

We know how it's affected the national discourse of regular adults. But there's no denying the conduct of a president impacts how children around the world see the example being set for them. Every day for the past four years, children have been subjected to the behavior of a divisive figure that many of their parents chose to exalt to the most powerful office in the world.

Sure, adults can make excuses for him saying he's an "imperfect messenger" or that they "didn't vote for him to be reverend," but these are all just ways to rationalize voting for a man with zero character. What a message to send to children: Act awful and you'll be handsomely rewarded.

But what if you took away the "Trump" name and examined the character traits of him as an ordinary person? More specifically, what if your daughter came to you and said this was the kind of person she was planning to date? Well, one MAGA family found out and the results are funny, insightful and quite revealing about how we somehow hold our leaders to different and lower standards than we expect from ourselves in our day to day lives.

Keep Reading Show less

After years of advocating for racial justice and calling out police brutality and seeing little change in law enforcement and our justice system, some people are rightfully fed up. When complaints are met with inaction, protests are met with inaction, and direct action is met with inaction, maybe it's time to get specific in who needs to be held accountable for issues in law enforcement.

That's exactly what Keiajah (KJ) Brooks did at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting in her hometown of Kansas City this week. The 20-year-old used her approximately four minutes with the microphone—and with the commissioners' undivided attention—to unequivocally lay out her position to each and every one of the officials in that room.

"Fair warning, I'm not nice and I don't seek to be respectable," she began. "I'm not asking y'all for anything because y'all can't and won't be both my savior and my oppressor. I don't want reform. I want to turn this building into luxury low-cost housing. These would make some really nice apartments."

"Firstly, stop using Black children as photo opportunities, 'cause they're cute now, but in 10 years, they're Black male suspects in red shirts and khaki shorts," she said. "Eating cookies and drinking milk with children does not absolve you of your complicity in their oppression and denigration..." she added, before looking directly at the police chief and pointedly calling him out by name, "...Rick Smith."

Keep Reading Show less