Men's Shelter of Charlotte

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“Coming From Where I’m From”

On 2/27/18 Grammy Award Winning artist Anthony Hamilton visited our shelter to serve lunch and spend some time with our men. Below, our Executive Director, Liz Clasen-Kelly reflects on the experience

There is always a certain buzz in the shelter, when we have a celebrity volunteering. Cell phones are out, requests for selfies frequent – I imagine no different than the general public when it comes to a celebrity sighting.

But this wasn’t just any celebrity. This was Charlotte’s own: Grammy-award winning artist Anthony Hamilton (if you don’t know who he is, I highly encourage you to take a listen to this neo-soul legend. Disclaimer: I am a fan).

One of Hamilton’s most well-known songs “Coming from Where I’m From,” recounts traversing the road out of poverty. The moment he stepped foot on our shelter steps, it was clear “Coming from Where I’m From,” was true to his personal experience. The first person he saw was someone who grew up with him off West Blvd. The man shared this information a bit tenuously at first, unsure if Hamilton would remember him. “I didn’t forget people, just because I started singing lyrics,” Hamilton replied.

As Hamilton got situated behind the serving line, he offered smiles, generous portions of chicken, and a gracious willingness to pose for any picture requested. I listened as several men recounted their experiences of knowing Hamilton from the past. School yard, neighborhood. Russell (pictured above with Hamilton) recalled getting his haircut at the barbershop in Clanton Park – before Hamilton made it, he would serenade the shop patrons. A photo came together of all those who had grown up on with Hamilton, with pronouncements of “West Side-ee,” in the air.

And yet, that was not the energy in the room. Our guests, particularly those raised in Charlotte, rejoiced in Hamilton’s success. His success was their success. And, Hamilton graciously giving nothing but love, ensured our men knew this was the case. You could feel guests beginning to dream just a bit more, about what might be possible for their own life.

It was the most positive energy I had ever felt in our lunch room, and yet, a question caught inside me. Several men, growing up in the same neighborhood, with drastically different outcomes. Hamilton having achieved his greatest dreams, and several men, living the nightmare of homelessness. I thought of Charlotte’s ranking of 50 out of 50 cities in terms of economic mobility. Hamilton had beaten the odds. Our guests had not.

It was fitting, that Hamilton’s thank you text after the event ended with this line, “I pray that each and every man there be lifted to his full potential.” To that I say, “Amen.”

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