Writing their song
By Caroline Smith
For the past year Michael Bernos, class of 1973, has served as a voice for migrant workers through his music. He says, “A good song is like a short story.”
The needs of migrants have long rested in Bernos’s heart. His interest in serving migrants was piqued in the summer of his freshman year of college at Spring Hill. He worked with the children of migrant workers in Battles Wharf, Ala., at Casa de Los Amigos, the Jesuit Retreat house on Mobile Bay. “It was the first time I was introduced to one of this country’s underclass. It was an eye-opener for a white, middle-class boy from provincial New Orleans,” he explains.
Bernos says his experience in Battles Wharf taught him the “intangible rewards of giving your time and self, as well as the joy of working with others for a good cause.” Inspired by the Rev. Albert S. Foley, S.J., and his social apostolate program, Bernos continued to work alongside other students to set up day care centers for the children of migrant workers in Baldwin County and the town of Pisgah, Ala., during his four years at Spring Hill.
“What I learned there still guides my life,” Bernos says of Spring Hill. As a student, Bernos was on the Badger baseball team, worked on the inaugural Earth Day committee, served on the college speaker committee, and represented his sophomore class on the Student Council.
Since college, Bernos has gone on to establish a career in journalism and media relations, and as a singer/songwriter. Bernos is director of corporate communications for a national architectural/engineering firm based in Jacksonville, Fla. He covers events and contributes articles to Agence France Presse as well.
“The emphasis of Spring Hill’s education was never a life of unchecked ambition or material indulgence but rather one of pursuing what you love and providing an understanding of your role in the world. That gave me confidence and permission to pursue writing, acting and music – seeing those pursuits as being equally as fulfilling as having a successful career,” he says.
Now, 37 years after he graduated from Spring Hill, Bernos has reconnected with the cause for migrant workers. Bernos had a chance meeting with the president of the Harvest of Hope Foundation, Phillip Kellerman, in 2008. Harvest of Hope is a nonprofit organization located in Gainesville, Fla. It has been providing migrant farm workers and their families with emergency relief and financial assistance for more than 15 years.
After his meeting with Kellerman, Bernos played a song for Kellerman that he had written. Bernos wrote the song “Brown Skin,” after witnessing the death of a migrant child. Moved by the song, Kellerman invited Bernos to play at several benefits for Harvest of Hope. Bernos’s music was well received by audiences and the two agreed to produce a CD that would benefit the Foundation.
Also included on the album is the title track, “With These Hands,” a ballad/gospel anthem to the spirit of migrant farm workers, says Bernos. The CD has been well received by migrant organizations throughout the country with the help of Harvest of Hope. The most recent benefit was the Harvest of Hope Festival in St. Augustine, Fla., on March 14.
“As a songwriter, I write about those things that make an impact on me both consciously and unconsciously. My experience working with them led me to try and capture their plight and enduring story,” Bernos says.
“Migrant farm workers pick most of the food we put on our tables. It is a thankless and forgotten work, yet there is much to learn from the humility and humbleness of these people. I found their story both inspiring and tragic.”
Bernos reflects on how Spring Hill influenced his life since college, “My experiences would not be understood to the extent they are if it were not for my Spring Hill education.”