Los Medanos College gospel concert proclaims power of music
By Lou Fancher
For 22 years, the Los Medanos College Gospel Choir has been proclaiming the power of music -- and it has no intention of stopping now. In fact, with science and society increasingly recognizing the unity that music establishes, it's easy to understand why an announcement of the 22nd Year Annual Celebration Concert May 7 sent by Professor and Choir Director Silvester Henderson arrives in an email peppered with capital letters and exclamation marks.
The bottom line, Henderson declares, is that students' effective tolerance and success improves when examples of educational excellence come from multiple sources and various ethnic backgrounds.Whether it's floating on the melodic lines of gospel singers or striking like a thunderbolt from the mouths of inspirational guest speakers, Henderson has invited a bevy of talent to deliver the messages he says students, educators and the public need to hear.
"I invited Professor Evan Wade because of his reputation as a noted academic African-American research scholar," Henderson says.
"We practice the educational truth that students tend to develop into better human beings when they experience various academic approaches to learning, social differences and intellectual developments."Wade, a professor of history at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, writes in an email about the lecture he plans to deliver: "The fight for a quality education is the biggest civil rights struggle of today. The battleground for inclusion must first begin in the classroom."
With the classroom as an incubator, Wade says students' ability to love themselves and people of other cultures are shaped by their instructors. Distortion, therefore, is created if black faculty are absent.
"For many of my students, I am their first and only black male professor," Wade says.
"For students of color (not having instructors of color), limits their ability to imagine themselves in higher positions of power.
For white students, it limits their ability to see a person of color who holds a subject matter expertise or who is in a position of power."
Faculty role models that arrive in both genders and from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, not simply a diverse student population, Henderson and Wade agree, are a vital part of shaping a future American that's culturally and educationally sophisticated and relevant.
Special guest Kevin LeVar grew up with positive black role models: His father was a preacher and a policeman, his mother, a librarian.
Even so, he admits there have been times when he floundered. Music, especially the music he heard in church throughout his childhood, gave him a foundation upon which to build a future. Myrna Summers, the Winans, and other gospel voclasts provided a road map that led to secular music stars who influenced his career choice -- Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Boyz II Men and more.
"There are tons of musicians, but it takes someone unique to change people's lives with music," he says.
And for LeVar, it took God's power, which he credits for bringing him from a place of pain to where he is now. "I'm no longer in pain. It's love that drew me, not loud preaching or a cross around someone's neck."
LeVar's first album included a track he says was never meant to be a song but has drawn millions of YouTube views.
"The response to 'A Heart That Forgives' surprised me because I wasn't even going to put it on my record. I had another song I liked better, and besides, it was a personal prayer that didn't even start out as a song. I went in the studio and got choked up while I recorded it. Listening to it later, I wasn't sure if I wanted it out there because I sounded so vulnerable. I wasn't trying to riff or run or do something spectacular."
"Your Destiny," a song on his second album, has had a similar impact, with 1.5 million views since its release in 2014. LeVar says he'll likely perform both songs, along with a new selection that will be on a third recording he's working on.
" 'I Will Restore' speaks of making mistakes but not living with regret because God restores everything." he said.
"The album is called 'People Matter' and talks about how society struggles with valuing money over people. It's lyrically rich, but also more socially conscious.
"Gospel, or music in general, can stand up against young boys and girls being sex trafficked and ruined for money, prisons profiting over justice being done. If there was a cure for cancer discovered, would it be offered to poor people for free?"
The answers aren't as easy to discover as the questions are to ask. But if Henderson, the choir, Wade, LeVar, featured guest Michael Blankenship and the other musicians in the concert have their way, their "tune" of diversity and acceptance will stick long enough to keep minds humming and change not just hearts but the face of education.