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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Spotlight

Skid Row Karaoke Gives Voice to Homeless

Every Wednesday night, the Central City Community Church hosts a free karaoke night for L.A.'s homeless.

Los Angeles is the city where stars are born, but sometimes talent can turn up where you would least expect it.

The Central City Community Church of the Nazarene, located in the heart of Skid Row, is home to the Wednesday night Karaoke Coffee Club where the homeless come for a chance to be heard.

Karaoke night is open to everyone who wants to sing or just enjoy the music. (Vicki Chen/ATVN).
Karaoke night is open to everyone who wants to sing or just enjoy the music. (Vicki Chen/ATVN).

Doors open for the weekly event at 7 p.m.

Ronnie Shepherd, who has been living on and off the streets since the late 1970’s, has been a regular at karaoke night for 16 years.

“I happened to walk past the church one day and I thought they was having church, but they was having karaoke,” Shepherd recalled.

Shepherd refers to himself a “karaoke junkie” and said singing reminds him of better days.

“I can think about the good times when I was coming up in the Motown era,” he said. “Back in the 60’s...ain’t nothing like it. You can’t beat it.”

Pastor Tony Stallworth and his wife Lucy started the program 16 years ago as an outreach initiative for the church. Stallworth himself was homeless and addicted to drugs before joining the church and becoming a pastor.

“The hardest thing is the rejection that homeless people experience,” Stallworth said.”  “The pure fact that people don’t want to talk to you. They want to disregard you. They’re afraid of you.”

According to the United Way, 51,340 people are living homeless in Los Angeles County. About 8.5% of these people live on Skid Row.

The church offers something hard to find in this rough neighborhood: a place to call home. And karaoke gives a voice to those who often feel invisible to society.

Church member Linda Harris Byrd is not homeless, but said she believes that all human beings are God’s children and the church welcomes everyone.

“Just because this person is laying on the sidewalk doesn’t mean he’s not a human,” Byrd said. “It doesn’t mean that he’s not hungry. This is a place where you can come and feel welcome. You can feel important, accepted, love.”

The community bonds are strong, because the singers and audience here understand life’s hardships.

“I know how it feels to be in their shoes and they know how it feels to be in my shoes and what I’ve gone through in life,” said singer April Serrato.

Robert Verdine added, “You don’t have to have millions of dollars to be known as a great entertainer. I want to be able to perform and come back and help the world.”

Many of the people who have been helped by the church and other non-profit organizations have been able to transition to apartments of their own.

Shepherd is no longer living on the streets, but still calls Skid Row his home and his source for inspiration.

“I’m still striving to get that house on the corner with that white picket fence and the nice beautiful automobile out in the yard,” he said. “But until then, I can always hope and dream.”

And as long as there is hope on Skid Row, the music will play on.

COMMENTS

What time is their worship?

The church holds services multiple days of the week, but the Karaoke Coffee Club opens its doors at 7 pm every Wednesday.

Love this piece, Vicki! Great work

Thanks for watching, Ashley!

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