Sandtown is an African-American community in Baltimore. A real neighborhood. Sandtown is where Mr. Benny still makes homemade candied apples every October and sells them from his stand; a place where you can buy fruit and vegetables from a pony-drawn cart for whatever deal you can swing with the vender. Sandtown is a place where every summer night neighbors still sit out on the marble steps of their homes retelling the events of the day.
Every life is a story waiting to be told, and a special group of young artists are ready to share their compelling chapter. Here is their true story.
It is the 1950s and early 60s and Sandtown is a flourishing community. Though still segregated by the law of the land, an indomitable spirit defines the place. Churches and families, stores and schools provide the fabric of neighborhood life. Jobs are not making men rich, but they are available.
And there is music. Such music. The Royal Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue is one of the major East Coast stops for artists on their way to the Uptown in Philadelphia, and the Apollo in Harlem. Billie Holliday was born here. Cab Calloway goes to school here. Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, and James Brown all come to play here…in Sandtown.
As the 1960s march forward Baltimore's shipping and steel industries are in decline and jobs are disappearing. An important battle for de-segregation and equal opportunity is being won, but Sandtown pays a heavy price. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated April 4, 1968 and in the riots that follow, many corner stores and businesses close, never to re-open. As equal opportunity housing legislation is passed, thousands of black families move to better neighborhoods, exercising new options that racism never extended.
The year is 1986. Sandtown -- thirty years earlier teaming with over 40,000 residents -- now languishes near 10,000. One in every four houses stands vacant. Unemployment exceeds fifty percent. Decades of neglect have taken their toll. But the spirit of the community remains.
A group of neighbors start New Song Urban Ministries and begin to rebuild. First a church, then a chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a health center, a job development program, a drug rehabilitation center, a brand new school, and a community music program. Out of this setting emerges a group of kids who sing with courage and fervor. They sing with authenticity and unique artistry. They sing their story.
SANDTOWN, the performing group, is born. Everything about them is Sandtown. The history, the outlook, the boldness to hope for the future.
The kids in the choir dream big. They are asked to deliver big. The Mayor calls on SANDTOWN to sing at his inauguration. The Baltimore Orioles call SANDTOWN to sing the National Anthem. They sing for governors, senators, and other dignitaries-even royalty. They perform with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. They sing at Walt Disney World. They play New York City, and then up and down the East Coast.
Whenever, wherever they sing, the kids of SANDTOWN conquer and capture audiences, no matter how diverse. They captivate listeners with their expression, their volume, and the profound word they bring. The fact that this word comes from children sets it apart.
As SANDTOWN delivers their own brand of modern urban music, the world is responding. A new record deal. Numerous appearances at major conferences, summer festivals and performance halls. Plans for a documentary.
When the kids of SANDTOWN perform, audiences everywhere are hit with a tidal wave of irrepressible joy. SANDTOWN is on a mission to live out and share their destiny.
Check it out, I've always been a survivor,
From the moment that He blew breath in me,
He resurrected me with a purpose and with a Destiny,
To- Forever remain a warrior of integrity
Nobody can stop me 'cause I'm in this for longevity
I'm more than a conqueror, 'cause he perfected me.
I'm focused, even when my enemies try to pressure me.
I'm so determined, to leave a legacy
I'm ready for any and everything that lies ahead of me.
(From their new song, "Destiny")
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