|Stop The Violence Talent Show
Article By: Renee Haynes Johnson
As I came down Highland Avenue I wondered what the turnout would be for this event. It was a cold Friday night in Pittsburgh after all. There were more cars than usual during this time of night in East Liberty. So, when I turned onto Penn Avenue and there were even more cars, I thought “Good!” And who’s white stretch limo was that parked in front of Kelly Strayhorn Theatre?
In the lobby I passed a vendor with beautiful jewelry and clothing on display. On the other side was an information table. I was swept into the auditorium by the invasive beats of the SteelCity Drum Majors. LOWACIT Entertainment’s “Stop the Violence” talent show was under way! Almost every seat in the auditorium was filled from the floor to the upper levels. And the people were obviously enjoying themselves.
The evening’s event was jam-packed with the talent of singers, dancers, poets and rappers. Last year’s winner returned as a guest and performed skillfully on the keyboard. One of my favorite acts was a poetic duo called STRIPES. These two young men presented a powerful spoken word with the rhythm and rhyme of rap. My other favorite act was a dance troupe of young girls called PRETTY YOUNG LADIES. WOW! They weren’t competing. But they will somewhere and they will definitely win!
Guest speakers also took the stage. Two mothers who have had sons in the criminal justice system (CJS) shared their insight with a common message: the CJS is no joke and you don’t want to get mixed up in it. You’re not the only one with a sentence. Your family is sentenced too. And sometimes your family is placed under surveillance because of what you’ve done. Another notable speaker works with the Center for Victims of Violent Crimes. She experienced the loss of a son to an act of violence. When she returned to work after her loss and the brief bereavement period her job allowed, she was comatose and angry but played it off like she was okay. She decided to channel her energy in a positive way and began working with the Center. She illustrated how the criminal justice system is a game, naming some of the “playahs”. She asked, “Is that flat screen TV you got for Christmas from ill gotten money? If it is, you’re part of the game too.” She went on to say the prison system is the most profitable system in the country. Three new prisons are being built in Pennsylvania while drug and alcohol programs, mental health programs, and schools are being shut down. She encouraged the audience to put the prison system out of business and gave suggestions on how to begin.
When Intermission was announced, Walt Dickens, the host, also announced he was going off to learn how to Dougie. I wondered how long that would take because I wanted to interview him!
He told me the talent shows grew out of when, in the 80’s, he and his sister used to rap and participate in talent shows and performances. It gave them opportunities to meet other kids like them from Pittsburgh and as far as New Kensington. It was a way for them to conquer a lot of fears and develop their stage presence. At the same time it helped keep them all out of trouble. Mark C was their manager back then too, he laughed. Mark continues to find venues for them and does marketing in schools and by placing fliers in various businesses.
LOWACIT is an anagram of his and his sister’s children’s names. What they are hoping to do is establish a legacy for them as a way of giving back to the community by offering positive activities to be a part of. Walt chose “Stop the Violence” as a theme because of experiences he knows of on both sides of the gun. He passionately stated, “Parents aren’t supposed to bury their kids. That’s just not natural. What happened to a good old fist fight or getting angry and trash talkin? How does it go to gunshots so quickly?” He was just as passionate when he said he doesn’t do these shows for profit. He sees his purpose as providing better venues than he and his sister had to showcase their talents. And the prize money is to encourage performers to come forth and give their best.
Speaking of prizes…the winner of this year’s “Stop the Violence” talent show was STRIPE!
There were promoters and agents in the audience looking to sign up performers that very night. For someone this could mean being in the right place at the right time. An example of taking advantage of opportunity and being in the right place at the right time is THE UNDALRDS. The stretch limo parked outside the theatre belonged to them! They are a motivated hip hop and rapping troupe of young men aged 9-15 whose musical talents and self marketing strengths have propelled them into Pittsburgh’s spotlight. Their promoter said it’s in places like this talent show where he finds members to sign up. He said “The days are over where you have to pay to showcase your talent.” He encouraged the audience by saying “You can’t go around hating your brothers. What you gotta do is love yourself and unite!”
To see such talent housed here in Pittsburgh made me proud. To meet people who unselfishly provide venues to showcase and reward these efforts of youth in our community as an alternative to a violent lifestyle was encouraging. To learn more their next talent show will be in May 2011. It is something to look forward to!