The kids of the Perfecting Gifts choir, at the March for Our Lives
As I approached the #MarchForOurLives gathering point at the Clayborn Temple this morning, walking across Robert R. Church Park, a choir's song wafted through the air, growing stronger as I drew near. The call to move had been made, and marchers were just beginning to walk up Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, but the singers' power kept building. “We are one...we are one,” they sang. Many marchers paused and turned back, riveted, looking to the temple's front steps, where a couple dozen kids sang. Now the soloists were stepping out, testifying in song with tremendous soul.
The music seemed to be wind beneath the wings of the march, carrying over two blocks' worth of humanity to the National Civil Rights Museum. Although official estimates of the crowd size are not yet available, this was a well-attended march of many hundreds who were calling out for stricter gun control laws. As people chanted “enough is enough,” signs floated above the crowd, cutting to the heart of the issue: “NRA Gives Blood Money for Political Bull Shit,” “Moms Demand Action,” “Melt the Guns,” and a giant handgun twisted into a knot. "This is what democracy looks like," they chanted.
I lingered at Clayborn Temple a while as the people and the signs flowed toward South Main, and found the kids in the choir reassembling inside. They were about to reprise their performance for a video taping. As they milled around, I spoke a bit with the choir director, Sharonda Mitchell, who co-wrote "We Are One" with Ranata Hickson.
Memphis Flyer: So how did this choir come together to sing for the march today?
Sharonda Mitchell: The kids are with Perfecting Gifts, Incorporated
. We are a 501(c)3 organization with a mission to nurture, mature and celebrate young artists. So we decided to put an original song together and let the kids go into Hope Presbyterian Church
, the Grove recording studio, and record the song. That was last Saturday, and we're here today to do a video with the song
. Then we plan to release it on the anniversary of Dr. King's death.
That's great. So it applies to both today's march and Dr. King's vision.
Absolutely. The lyrics are so simple, "We are one, together we stand, hand in hand, we are one."
Did these kids just come together for this event?
This event was put together as a part of our six weeks performing art intensive. So all of the students came together for six weeks. They learned the basics of performance, which means vocal performance, theater — they learned all the basics. And now this is the culmination activity that ends the six weeks intensive. We have a program every season. This is our winter program and it will be kicking off again for the summer, which will be six weeks as well. And then we'll come back for the fall and do six weeks. This particular six weeks intensive is with kids aged from 9 to 17. But for summer we go all the way down to six years old. And we divide them into age appropriate groups. And it's all for the empowerment of our youth. Especially those who love music, love theater, love to sing. This is the perfect program for them.
Are kids recruited from all the school systems?
Absolutely. I have representation with this particular group from fifteen of our city schools. Maybe three charter schools. All of them are good honor roll students; and those who aren't honor roll students are striving to be. And it's the music that's enabling them to come out of their shell and do better with that. Believe it or not, most of these students have never performed in a choir. So this is the beginning of what will expand into youth unity in music.
Is it always
We have a mixture of everything. Today we have Steven Simmons, who's from Visible Music College. He and his team mate will be opening up with a song. We're trying to do more partnering with Visible, since they are right in the neighborhood here. And he as a musician invests so much into the kids. So we're trying to get a collaboration really soon. We also have Gary Walker, who is just an amazing musician. He's the one who developed the original track for the song "We Are One".
So the studio version has a backing track.
Yes, it was created by Gary Walker and it was presented by Steven Simmons and they were recorded by Marque Walker. Our video company is Forever Ready. They are amazing. Lauren and Julie have been just what we needed. They love the kids and it shows even in their recording. So it's just a big collaboration.