The neighborhood of Skid Row in Los Angeles has historically served as a harsh place where people on the margins of society, including the poor, drug addicts, prostitutes and mentally ill, live on its streets. However, one pastor is trying to reach out to them through the unconventional methods of coffee and karaoke.
In an exclusive report by John Rogers of the Associated Press, Pastor Tony Stallworth of the Central City Community Church of the Nazarene tries to reach out to these lost souls by holding "Karaoke Night." About 200 people lined up to participate in this weekly event.
"It's a little bit of a return to normalcy in an area that's just absolute chaos," Andy Bates, the head of Skid Row's Union Rescue Mission, said.
According to Rogers, Skid Row is a part of Los Angeles "where a misdirected look can launch a knife fight, where the streets reek of urine, where some 1,700 people lay their heads on dirty sidewalks every night to sleep." Bates elaborated on how the songfests, which last for around three hours every Wednesday, brought joy to the homeless and even changed some lives.
"People kind of lose themselves in that moment and get to display their talents," Bates said.
Rogers reported that one of the performers, James Walker, performed a duet performance of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" with Washington State University senior Joani Dahmen, who spent her spring break volunteering at a homeless shelter.
"I'm just a homeless person," Walker said modestly, although he refused to explain how he ended up that way. "I live in a tent on the sidewalk just a couple blocks down the street."
Rogers reported that the quality of the performances ranged from "profoundly awful" to a "handful who leave the audience shaking its collective head, wondering why they're not in a recording studio." Ronnie Shepherd, also known as Sidewalk Slim the doorman, greeted the people who show up to perform.
Stallworth talked with Rogers on how God led him to holding Karaoke Night at the church on a weekly basis.
"When I came to the Lord back in 1989, I prayed and I told him I'd like to make my living singing," the senior pastor said. "Of course I was referring to I'd like to be a recording artist."
Stallworth admitted to Rogers that he had his doubts on this outreach, given that it included free coffee and snacks for those who attended Karaoke Night. However, he knew the outreach was worth all that effort after a homeless man paid a visit to that event.
"I was on the way to the dope house one night when I heard the music and walked in, and now I come here every week, and I just want to help out," the unnamed homeless man said, later giving the pastor $3.
"I just looked up in the sky and said, 'Thank you, Lord,'" Stallworth recalled from that exchange with the homeless man.