Several well known rhythm and blues entertainers have come to Washington this week as self-proclaimed missionaries who say they hope to reach inner city youths with musical messages telling them that Christianity is the best alternative to crime, drugs and promiscuity.
"I've been to 14th and U [Streets NW]. I've seen the crime and drugs and prostituton because I walked those streets to see what they were like several years ago," said Deniece Williams, 31, popular songstress from Gary, Ind., who got her start nine years ago as a backup singer in Stevie Wonder's Wonderlove band.
"Some people feel that this kind of life is the only alternative," she said. "They've lost hope, they've given up. We hope to show them and other young people in this city that there is another alternative."
The alternative, says Williams and the promoters of a Living Proof Musical on Saturday at 2 p.m. at RFK Stadium, is Christianity. They have fashioned a musical program of mostly West Coast entertainers who volunteered their talents and came to Washington as missionaries, she said. Several area ministers said they hope the Saturday rally will be the beginning of a youth outreach program here.
Williams and other rock and soul artists, such as Noel Pointer, Ray Parker, Tony Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, Philip Bailey of the group Earth, Wind and Fire, and former 5th Dimension lead vocalists Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., will sing some of their hits with slightly different lyrics that present a religious element, according to organizers. The D.C. Youth Orchestra, a combined choir from several area churches and the Richard Smallwood Singers, a local gospel group, are also scheduled to perform.
Organizers said the program, billed as an interdenominational rally supported by the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, Evangel Temple in Northeast Washington and Volunteers of America, a national religious social action group, is geared to attract some 55,000 people, most of them inner city youths.
The principal organizers, the Rev. John L. Meares, founder of Evangel Temple, and Don Dudley, a former Seattle businessman who joined Volunteers of America, enlisted the financial support of several Washington businesses and the public encouragement from Mayor Marion Barry Dudley and Meares got U.S. Park Police to distribute free tickets to youths, and the chiefs of the city's police and fire departments to encourage their officers and firefighters to attend the program in uniform and bring inner city children.
Deniece Williams said that too often the music that young people hear today promotes what she called a negative way of life.
"I'm not going to try to force my way on other people," said Williams, who has included songs with religious messages on her albums. "All I am saying that to those looking for an alternative, there is one."