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The Bright and Morning Star

by Mark Peres

February 7,2008

Sometimes a moment takes your breath away. Sometimes a moment presents itself and you know as it is happening that something special is occurring: a moment that calls forth the better angels of our nature; that is joyful and redemptive. You take it in, with a knowing smile, grateful that the world offers it amidst its travails and challenges. And it gives you hope.

Two weeks ago, a good friend invited my family to join a group for drinks and a concert. It was a cold January night, the city lights were alive, one of those nights that had metropolitan vibe and promise in the air. Walking briskly in our overcoats, my wife, daughter and I crossed Trade & Tryon, holding hands as we went, and found our way to Sonoma Restaurant. There, in the back room, our hosts offered us food and wine, and we soon found ourselves in conversation with old friends and new. We talked arts and politics, made introductions, and quietly praised the person who had brought us all together.

From there, we attended the Tenth Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Daybreak of Freedom Memorial Concert at the Belk Theater. Our host had graciously bought our tickets. We sat not far from the stage as the Charlotte Symphony, led by conductor Charles Floyd, opened with “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” Soon the Charlotte City-Wide Metered Hymn Choir followed. Members of five different area churches, the Choir had the gray-haired look of hard times and spiritual wisdom. They sang “The Lily of the Valley,” clapping hands and calling out verses in poetic meter that put you in the fields and told of a better day coming.

With the spirit moving, we heard “Signs of the Judgment” sung by VOX, a choral ensemble of the innovative Firebird Arts Alliance led by David Tang and Peppie Calvar. VOX brought modern harmonies and syncopation to a song of salvation that brought loud responsive shouts from the audience. With emotions rising, we heard the recorded voice of Dr. King tell us that he was happy tonight, that he was not worried about anything, that he was not fearing any man, for his eyes had seen the coming of the Lord.

And then the moment came. Dennis Reed, Jr. & G.A.P took the stage. G.A.P., an acronym for “God’s Appointed People,” is a ministry that leads Inspire the Fire, Inc., a group of choir and band members who are a cross between old time gospel and Parliament Funk. In a hooded button-down jacket, jeans and sneakers, and a smile as electric as any I’ve seen, Reed led G.A.P., the Metered Hymn Choir, VOX and the Symphony in a combined performance of “I Got My Joy Back.” Out front, Jerri Reed, Dennis’ mother, sang solo, taking the audience to church, getting us on our feet, singing, swaying and raising hands on high.

I looked around the audience and saw so many transcendent faces, and was reminded of what I’ve always known, that there is so much potential and power in us to do extraordinary things.

The person who invited my family to attend that night was Valaida Fullwood. Some of you may know Valaida and her sister Diatra. You may know that they bring people together to celebrate friendship and connection. You may know that they have founded a giving circle to seed philanthropy among young Charlotteans. You may know that they serve on non profit boards and assist transformational political campaigns. They are citizens in the most noble way – making the world better by trusting in the best in us.

We are in a new age: an age of citizen-driven purpose that has moved past protest and patronage to social entrepreneurship. It is an age of big ideas for a global village, and of micro applications on city blocks. The excitement that I feel, that I am protective of, is there are a growing number of individual risk-takers who are rewriting relationships and community building. We should not wait on them to ask for a grant – because they may never come calling – but seek them out, find the innovators in our midst, and invest in their ideas.

Can we change the world? To borrow a phrase, yes we can.

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