Concerts give back through tickets, collections

It takes inspiration to create inspiration.

Awareness, aid and, perhaps, inspiration is the goal of the Jazz Arts Group's presentation of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra in "A Concert to End Homelessness." Faced with the continued specter of homelessness, music director Byron Stripling found himself asking, "As an artist, what can I do?" he told The Beat.

Stripling's question stemmed from a conversation with Michelle Heritage, executive director of the Community Shelter Board, to whom he was introduced at a dinner party.

"I listened to her talk about the problems of the homeless and addressing homelessness and she kept saying, 'We could end homelessness.' "

Thus inspired, Stripling then found inspiration in two musical giants: Leonard Bernstein's "This will be our reply to violence" quote and Quincy Jones' We Are the World project.

And so these CJO concerts were conceived, not just as a way to raise funds -- which they will, as $5 from each ticket sold will go to the shelter board -- but also to meet needs. Audience members are asked to bring towels, bars of soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste -- and maybe even something more.

"It seems like, when you encounter a person who might be homeless or who is asking for money, the tendency is to ignore or not acknowledge," Stripling said.

"To acknowledge, that is a human thing."

Each concert will open with images of homeless individuals and families, photos that display human beauty. The program also will include several theatrical vignettes written and directed by Alexis Wilson.

The full Columbus Jazz Orchestra, joined by guest vocalists Jonathan Elliott and Talisha Holmes, will perform uplifting songs, including a Charlie Chaplin tune, Smile; Reach Out and Touch; a gospel medley; and a What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger finale.

Stripling, who has visited a homeless "camp" and local shelters recently as a sort of preparation for these concerts, said it's important to remember that a variety of life circumstances can leave people without a place to live, and that many people are just a catastrophic expense or two to three months of joblessness from being on the streets.

"Our community has experienced a sharp rise in homelessness, with ravaging effects on our neighbors," Heritage said.

"It's time to bring an end to the fear and hopelessness that comes from a life on the streets."

"It's not a concert to help homelessness or to manage homelessness," Stripling said.

"It's a concert to end homelessness."

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