by LIZ ONUFER | photos by Soul of Photography

Storytelling Through Songwriting

student_bristol1Rhian Bristol has made a living connection from past to present through a truly inspiring school project. A senior at The Grauer School, Rhian has combined her passion for music with her desire to help people heal in a way that has reached far beyond the scope of a class assignment.

Rhian’s U.S. History class project required students to research and creatively represent an unheard or misunderstood voice of the Civil Rights era. Rhian chose to represent Juliette Hampton Morgan, a white librarian in Montgomery, AL, through song. Rhian explained, “Morgan suffered from anxiety and could not drive; instead, she rode the city bus every day and witnessed the prejudiced treatment of African American riders by the white bus drivers. Morgan began to stand up and pull the emergency cord, stopping the bus whenever she saw an African American treated badly.” Morgan also wrote letters to local papers supporting integration. Due to her activism, Morgan and her family were targeted by segregationists. Tragically, Morgan committed suicide in 1957 at the age of 43.

“All I have ever wanted to do with my music is connect to people.”

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Name: Rhian Shelby Bristol (17)
School: The Grauer School
Grade: 12
Parents: David and Stephanie Bristol
Sibling: Kendall Bristol (13)
Hobbies & Interests: Music, neuroscience, community service, going to concerts, hiking, traveling, going to movies
Favorite Local Spots: Highway 101, SRF Meditation Gardens, Bier Garden, and Encinitas Café


student_bristol4The process of representing Morgan’s story through song was stressful, but Rhian knew it was the perfect medium since Morgan was also a writer. Many drafts later, Rhian composed a song that “really embodied Morgan’s character and pain,” she said. The young songwriter felt the music and its message needed a larger audience than her class. “Immediately when I finished the song I wished someone who knew her could hear it.”

Rhian’s mother, Stephanie, helped make that happen by contacting the Juliette Hampton Morgan Library in Montgomery. Through this connection, living family members of Morgan heard the song and reached out to Rhian. “All I have ever wanted to do with my music is connect to people, and when her family heard the song and reached out, it was the culmination of that wish,” Rhian said. “It meant so much to me that I made these strangers proud of their history and of me.” Rhian will be performing the song for the community at Aztec Brewing Company in Vista on Feb. 14.

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Rhian also makes connections through her service to the school and community. She is the senior class president, a member of the National Honor Society, and volunteers with the National Charity League. “I know it sounds corny but my goal is to really leave this earth a better place than I found it,” Rhian acknowledged. She plans to continue this work through her college education, combining her love of music and science in her future academics.