Keys to Life concert lifts up voices in the struggle against homelessness
It’s been a grim year for news about life in Anchorage’s homeless camps. When the number of outdoor deaths hit 50 in November, that set a new record high.
But there has been one notable bright spot – the Meaning of Home Project, which has showcased the poetry, music and art of those who struggle with housing.
Keys to Life, a non-profit, which works to bring change through the arts, closed-out the year with one final project, the Winter Voices concert at the Loussac Library on Dec. 10.
Just about every seat in the house was filled. And on the stage, professional artists made music with those who live on the margins of Anchorage, a mix of performers rarely seen together.
Michael Marshall had second thoughts about accepting Key’s to Life’s invitation to perform at the Wilda Marston Theatre.
“This is my first time performing,” Marshall said. “I’m pretty nervous, but I’m going to try my best.”
But Marshall acknowledges that it isn’t easy.
“Especially when you’ve been a person, who was on the streets, you need to take those opportunities as much as you can, because everyone only has one life,” Marshall said. “So, my presence there is to speak for the minority, speak for the homeless, when no one else can.
One of Marshall’s former school counselors, Corinthia Rabb McCoy, went backstage to give moral support.
She is also a well-known Anchorage gospel singer, who joined the stage with other singers at the Winter Voices Concert. She often wears brightly colored wigs. This time, it’s a bright orange, a sign she’s definitely not afraid to stand-out.
“I think it’s completely awesome,” Rabb McCoy said. “It’s a good variety of people from different aspects of life, including the majority of them being or having been homeless, including myself.”
Rabb McCoy says that was years ago, when she sought housing at a woman’s shelter. She says the problem is much worse now.
“I think there’s a lot more people experiencing homelessness now,” she said. “Just driving down 3rd Avenue was really tough to see.”
But Rabb McCoy says she knows these camps are places with talented people like Michael.
“There’s a lot of hidden talent, people kind of overlooked a lot,” they said. “So, seeing diversity and people giving other people chances, I think, is a wonderful thing People like us need to shine.”
And shine, Marshall did. The audience loved their performance so much that they brought the singer back for a second round of applause and a standing ovation.
Professional musicians like Shane Russell said it was a privilege to back-up performers like Marshall.
“I think this concert was so one of a kind,” he said, “yet it just shows how we can get all these artists and musicians to create something like this.”
Russell says he hopes events like Winter Voices this will help Anchorage comes to terms with its homeless problem.
“That is one of the biggest problems right now in our city. And everybody needs to have it a little more in our face in realizing we are all human and we all need to take care of each other,” he said.
The organizer of the concert, Shirley Mae Springer Staten, says it was of those rare moments of reciprocity, where those who struggle with housing were able to give back to the community.
“And the audience was able to receive, and also the audience paid,” she said. “And they received. We aren’t often in those kinds of circles.”
Spinger Staten hopes that those in the audience will consider the possibility that singers, story tellers and master artists may be among those who find themselves without a place to call home.