Reema Samaha, a freshman at Virginia Tech, was among the 33 people who died in the massacre there on April 16, 2007.
The 2006 graduate of Westfield High School was an actress, an improvisational comedienne, a ballet dancer, contemporary dancer and belly-dancer, and actively involved in the school’s tight-knit theater department, which that year began an annual tradition of song and dance performances in remembrance of her.
The event has grown each year, and as many Westfield and Virginia Tech classmates of Samaha have gone on to become professional and semi-professional performers, the show has become an eclectic showcase of talent, and remains free and open to the public each year, asking only for donations.
This year’s “Remembrance Cabaret for Reema Samaha” will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday at Westfield High School beginning with a silent auction including many donated items, such as original artwork. Each artist strives within their medium to honor Samaha’s memory in their own way on this special night each year.
“I donated a watercolor of a beautiful dancer,” said Mellissa Frangias, 28, who knows the Samaha family.
“My song, entitled ‘Nella Fantasia’ has a wonderful message I felt was totally appropriate for this kind of event, to remember Reema,” said Andrea Thornock, a singer. “It gives a touching message of hope and renewal in the values of humanity throughout the world. My student of six years, Anne Dueweke, a former graduate of WHS, who is currently in school in Richmond, will be singing a unique opera aria that has a real Slavic feel, with rich Eastern-European harmonies. Her song is entitled ‘Song to the Moon’ and is about a young lady singing to implore the moon to aid her in watching over her loved one. Anne and I felt that these words were also a lovely message of love and caring to give to Reema and her family and loved ones.”
This year’s cabaret will be emcee’d by WJLA-TV reporter and Westfield graduate Jummy Olabanji.
Lu Ann McNabb is president of the nonprofit Angel Fund, which was founded in Samaha’s name and receives proceeds from the event.
“Reema Samaha is our angel. It is to her memory, beauty, compassion, tolerance and acceptance of others that we dedicate this fund,” she said. “The tragedy at Virginia Tech had international repercussions, but took its greatest toll on the families and communities who loved the victims and continue to support the survivors. Unfortunately, the issues that led to this tragedy — mental health, bullying, social anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation — are also found within our communities. Angel Fund is focusing on these critical issues with which many of our young people grapple on a daily basis, including drug and alcohol addiction, and is seeking to find answers and solutions.”
In the days immediately following the tragedy, McNabb fielded media questions for the Samaha family at their home. “I have known the Samaha family for 25 years,” she said. “It was the least I could do during that terrible time.”
Later, McNabb founded the Angel Fund and began organizing the cabaret. In addition to the Angel Fund, proceeds also go to support the Reema J. Samaha Memorial Scholarships fund.
“There were and continue to be so many talented performers who wanted to honor Reema,” she said. “It started off with Westfield High School and just grew and grew and is still growing.”
Mona Samaha, Reema’s mother, says she opens her home to out-of-town performers every year, allowing them to stay there and then serving them breakfast the next day.
“What they are doing is so honoring to Reema,” she said. “It is very supportive and my family appreciates it very much.”
Phoebe Dillard, 20, was four years younger than Reema, but remembers Reema well.
“I began helping out with the show when I was 13,” she said. “Reema was such a beautiful spirit. She was so congenial and hilarious and caring. I love being a part of this annual cabaret because it truly honors her spirit by making something beautiful out of a tragic event.”