Education grad heals trauma through music and nature

Kelcee Burton

Educational studies major Kelcee Burton rekindled her love for music at UMSL while being involved on and off campus. During her time as a student, she served as a leader in the BES Club, mentored high school students at the Wyman Center and participated in a unique micro-internship program at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (photos courtesy of Kelcee Burton)

Kelcee Burton is only 23 years old, but in that time, she’s become well acquainted with trauma.

She has seen both her mother and sister pass away, but she’s determined not to let those losses define her. The University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate is on a mission to help others heal through education, music and nature.

Burton graduated with a bachelor’s in educational studies in December and is already putting it to use, working for Hip Hop for Change, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California. The organization’s goal is to fight negative stereotypes associated with hip hop culture and to use music to educate young people about important social issues, empower creativity and raise funds for projects that make an impact on communities with historic roots in the art form.

As an R&B artist who lives and breathes music, the role is pitch perfect for her.

“I’m so happy because I am in love with music,” Burton said. “It’s how I express myself, how I express the things that I experienced and go through, and I feel like other people can relate to that. I always have the same mission across the board, which is to inspire people and motivate them to realize their full potential.

Kelcee Burton

At Hip Hop for Change, Kelcee Burton will combine her love for music and her passion for working with young people.

“I want to do that in every way possible, so if that’s through music, working at a nonprofit and having face-to-face conversations with young people, whatever that is, I want to spread that love.”

Apropos of her mission, Burton records under the name Lovey. It’s an homage to her mother, who was given the nickname in high school due to her perpetual good nature. Burton noted her music is also inspired by Jhene Aiko, an R&B artist who has faced similar challenges in life – particularly losing a sibling.

“The way that she deals with her pain is what inspires me to kind of follow suit and do something similar,” she said.

Despite her current ambitions, Burton had to find her way back to music. As a child, she would write anything she could imagine, from songs to novels. However, she found encouragement for those pursuits lacking as school progressed.

“Somewhere along the way, I just dropped those things because I didn’t have the confidence to keep going nor the encouragement to keep those dreams alive,” Burton said.

The arts weren’t emphasized in her schools and instead, students were encouraged to do something practical, or as Burton describes it, “a normal thing, not a creative thing.” The message seemed clear to her: Music is not important.

It was at UMSL that Burton reclaimed her voice as an artist and discovered a career path and new appreciation for nature. She pursued a degree in educational studies because of the flexibility it provided.

“It’s not a traditional education major,” she said. “But sometimes it’s a perfect fit for somebody like me who really wanted to work with young people but didn’t necessarily want to be bound to a classroom.”

An internship with the Wyman Center afforded Burton an opportunity to work with high schoolers outside of the classroom. The nonprofit specializes in leadership programs to empower teens from economically disadvantaged circumstances. Burton worked with high school juniors and seniors from the St. Louis region.

With the juniors, she accompanied a group on a regional college tour that included 10 schools – seven in Missouri and three in Tennessee. The experience was designed to expose the teens to their available options and the decision-making process. Seniors took part in a more in-depth program.

“We actually stayed on campus at Missouri State University for a week,” Burton said. “That was the campus immersion experience where they would get to live like they were really in college.”

Seniors also attended professionalism workshops where they learned interview, resume and workplace tips to prepare for future success.

Burton worked to secure her own success by staying involved on campus. She served as the ambassador and Student Government representative for the BES club, bringing awareness to the major. Her mentor, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Experiential and Family Education Theresa Coble, took her to national professional conferences, as well.

Coble also recommended Burton for a unique micro-internship pilot program. She spent two weeks working at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.

“I was part of the first round of guinea pigs to see how it would work,” she recalled jokingly.

One of the fundamental aims of the program was to help urban residents experience the outdoors and provide access to a national park.

Kelcee Burton

Kelcee Burton spent two weeks working at Cuyahoga Valley National Park as part of a micro-internship. The program was centered around providing access to national parks for urban residents.

“We had one campfire event where the homeless shelter came, and getting them out there meant so much,” she said. “It was just amazing to see them really connect with nature and be able to be out there.”

Having grown up in St. Louis, it was a revelation for Burton, too. The impact of seeing green space, waterfalls and wildlife in person was enormous. It gave her a new perspective on nature.

“It opened my eyes so much,” Burton said. “I didn’t even realize what I was missing, so that experience was definitely something that I needed.”

So was going back to music.

Two years ago, Burton started working on songs again in earnest. She was in a good place and tried writing. It felt right, and she was convinced it was something she could pursue seriously.

“Once I had that belief instilled in my head, that is when I started taking it more seriously,” Burton said.  “I have projects that I’m trying to piece together and a marketing plan that I’m planning to follow.”

Burton anticipates getting on stage for a few live performances this year, too. Although she admits moving to a new city presents some complications to that goal. But, whether it’s on the stage or through recordings, she wants to share her gift – to carry on the memory of her mother, to heal.

“Like everything, my music career is dedicated to my mom because I wouldn’t be here without her,” she said. “I wouldn’t have this spirit without her.”

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