18th annual Boys & Girls Gala raises over $30,000 for local youth
Published 5:00 pm Monday, July 25, 2016
By BETH ALSTON
AMERICUS — The 18th annual Stake and Steak Fundraiser, hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Americus-Sumter County, was held Tuesday at Georgia Southwestern State University and the gym floor of the Storm Dome was filled with supporters.
This highly anticipated event raised more than $30,000 this year, according to Shirley Green Reese, president of the local B&G Club board.
Distinguished guests included the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, who have greatly contributed to the success of the local Boys & Girls Club program, Congressman Sanford Bishop, among other elected officials. Britanny Dawson, the newly appointed CEO, expressed how much her own experiences in the program as a child has affected her current and past successes.
Keynote speaker, Wintley A. Phipps, was introduced by Jimmy Carter. A world-renowned motivational speaker, pastor, education advocate, and vocal artist, Phipps was born in Trinidad, West Indies, and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He attended Kingsway College, a Christian Academy; Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in theology; and earned a master’s of divinity degree from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He holds an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters from Waynesburg University; an honorary doctor of laws degree from Oakwood University; and an honorary degree of doctor of education from Wheelock College
Phipps is founder, president, and CEO of the U.S. Dream Academy Inc., a non-profit, national after-school program.
For his work at the U.S. Dream Academy Phipps has received numerous service awards, among them The Excellence in Mentoring for Program Leadership Award from MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership; the Oprah Winfrey Angel Network Use Your Life Award; the Philanthropist of the Year Award from The National Center for Black Philanthropy Inc.; and the Distinguished Service Award from Loma Linda University. In recognition of his positive global impact through speaking engagements in Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa and North and South America, The National Speakers Association awarded Phipps the prestigious Master of Influence Award.
For more than 28 years, he has traveled the world delivering messages of hope, advocacy, and equality to many thousands of people. A video of Phipps performing “Amazing Grace” has enjoyed over seven million views on YouTube.
A two-time Grammy Award nominee in 1988 and 1989, Phipps is no stranger to performing in front of distinguished audiences. In addition to President Obama, other notable listeners have included former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Georgie W. Bush and former South African President Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Oprah Winfrey. He has been the featured speaker and performer for many notable occasions around the world.
Phipps has performed on Saturday Night Live and been the special guest on the Emmy award-winning series Super Soul Sunday on the Oprah Winfrey Network. He is the author of The Power of A Dream (1996) and Your Best Destiny (2015).
Phipps, when taking the stage, opened with a stirring rendition of “I Believe.”
Phipps told the audience he was born to a troubled home and would escape his parents’ troubles when he was five, six, seven and eight years old by taking his little red bicycle into the back yard, turning the bicycle on its side and use one of the wheels as a steering wheel as he dreamed of his future. He dreamed for hours, he said, with eyes closed, of flying away to places all over the world and meeting important people.
“As a child seeking for meaning and significance I thought maybe being around other, important people, that I was important, too,” he said.
His family moved to Canada when he was 10, “from palm trees to ice.” His father would take Phipps’ family to the airport to say good-bye to people. “Before leaving the airport, at 11 or 12 years old, I would look around and make sure no one was looking. I would grab a handful of the luggage tags and stuff them in my pocket. I’d go home and get a pencil and print my name … Flight 393 to London, Flight 676 to Paris, dreaming.”
When Phipps’ dreams turned to music he thought music would be his ticket to see the world and meet people. He said that while growing up in the ‘60s, he wanted to be another Sly Stone … “When I met Sly he was stoned,” he quipped.
Phipps said he had no voice teachers when he was 14 and 15 years old, but he found one on the radio, and would fervently listen and practice sounding just like the voice on the radio. On their 34th wedding anniversary, he and his wife flew to see the man with that voice in concert but he emailed the man first, relating that he was his voice teacher and his musical inspiration and related some the experiences he has had through his music. Phipps just wanted to say thank you. The voice emailed back and said, “Sir Tom Jones would like to see you and your wife when you come to Las Vegas.” They did.
As Phipps met his heroes, he realized some had “the world at their feet but they weren’t happy.” At age 16, Phipps got on his knees and asked God to tell him what He wanted him to do and he would do it. He wanted to travel and use his talents for God, if that was God’s will. He asked God to open doors for him.
Two days later Phipps was approached by an evangelical group who asked him to tour with them. He said he heard God’s voice which told him that if he would give God his dreams, he would be given what he had asked for.
“I began to realize that God is the ultimate dreamer,” Phipps said. “Only when He dreams, planets are born … and He also dreams about us. He dreams about every one of those children that are served by the Boys & Girls Club.”
Phipps said his journey has been “amazing” from the time he was 16 years old until now, at a little more than 60 years of age.
“That’s all I’ve done is to use this gift to pursue that dream. There’s nowhere in the world where I wanted to go that I haven’t been blessed to go. No one I had ever wanted to meet that I haven’t been blessed to meet,” he said.
Phipps then mentioned some of the dreams that have been realized during this life, often with humor.
One of his friends was the late Alex Haley, at whose funeral Phipps sang. He said Haley, the renowned author of “Roots,” kept in his office a picture of a turtle sitting on a fence, to always remind him that he didn’t get to where he was by himself but with the help of others.
“God said ‘give me your dreams; I’ll let you see what I’ve been dreaming for you,’” Phipps said. “ ‘Just be faithful; I’ll take your life down an unusual path. Not only will you get a chance to speak and minister and sing to millions but I want you to speak truth to people of influence and power.’ Little did I know how my life would go. I’m a turtle on a fence.”
After one of his early performances a man came up afterward and said he wanted to hear Phipps sing the song about being saved on the TV program Soul Train. The man called the host of the show, Don Cornelius and asked him to put Phipps on the show but Cornelius said he couldn’t put anything religious on the program. The man tried to convince Cornelius by saying that the young people on the show were the very ones who needed to hear Phipps’ message. Cornelius again said no. Finally, the man told Cornelius, “My name is George Johnson of Johnson & Johnson and my company has been backing your show for the last eight years.”
Phipps quipped with his multimillion-watt smile, “I was the first gospel artist on Soul Train.”
Thirty-five years ago, Phipps said, he was singing at the civic center in Baltimore, after which a young woman tapped him on his shoulder and told him that his performance had touched her and she wanted to talk to him. She told Phipps she was discouraged and was afraid she was going to be fired from her job. She came to the Phipps’ home where he and his wife talked and prayed with the young woman.
Phipps told the young woman, “I don’t know why but God has impressed me to tell you He’s going to bless you and give you an opportunity to speak to millions of people.” The skeptical young woman’s name was Oprah Winfrey.
“Treat people with respect when you don’t know who they are, where they’re going, or what they can do for you one day,” he advised.
Phipps said he sings for Democrats and Republicans.
He shared a political story. He was at a Democratic event in Washington and then had to rush across town to speak at a big Republican function. He told his audience he had just come from speaking to a Democratic audience which was met by boos from the Republicans. He told them, “I always go where people really need the Lord.”
Phipps told of being on a train from Baltimore to Philadelphia when noticed a man who looked very low and discouraged. While there were other seats available, Phipps approached the man who had his briefcase in the seat next to him. Phipps asked if the seat was taken and yhe man said no and removed his briefcase. The man was Chuck Colson and the two men became friends because of that train ride. Colson, who was Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973, served several months in prison in the wake of the Watergate scandal and is a born again Christian.
The two traveled together and Colson would speak and Phipps would sing. Phipps was in Richmond, S.C., with Colson one day and talking with young black men in prison. He said one in three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 are incarcerated or being supervised by the court system. Between 60 and 70 percent of all children, in Georgia, in Americus, in the U.S., who end up in prison come from parents who are incarcerated, he said. “It’s the children who become prisoners.”
Colson and Phipps realized the need to break this intergenerational chain and 20 years ago, Phipps started the U.S. Dream Academy. Now in seven cities, thousands of children come through his program, “and we do just what you’re doing here at the Boys & Girls Club. We offer tutoring and mentoring to this strategic group of young people — children whose parents are in prison and children who are falling behind in school.”
Phipps praised the local Boys & Girls Club for offering tutoring “because there is a direct link between school failure and incarceration … Sixty percent of all black boys in America who don’t graduate from high school, by the age of 30, will be in prison. So thank God for the work of the Boys & Girls Club here in Americus. Thank you for focusing on children who are disadvantaged, children who need support academically and children who need support in building character. Because what does it matter if the door of opportunity swings wide open and you’re too drunk or high to stagger through it? You need character.”
Phipps, during his hour at the podium thrilled the audience with another song, “Amazing Grace,” while relating one compelling story after another. You could hear a pin drop because the audience was mesmerized.
He urged every boy and girl in the Boys & Girls Club to not give up on their dreams and to dream big.
Several awards were presented at the conclusion of the program.
— U.S. 2nd District Congressman Sanford Bishop was recognized for his many years as a supporter of the Boys & Girls Club of America.
— Bill and Ann Harris Sr. were honored as Legends of the Boys & Girls Club of Americus-Sumter County for 18 years of service; he is the founder and past president.
— Coach Jimmy Green received two awards: national award for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for 18 years of service and an award from the Boys & Girls of Americus-Sumter County’s board for 18 years of service.
— President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, members of the B & G Club, were honored as Legends of the Boys & Girls Club of Americus-Sumter County for 18 years of service.
— The Americus Junior Service League was recognized for its many years of service to the Club.
— The Youth of the Year Award went to Tionne Bailey and and the Club Staff Member of the Year Award went to Trenisha Hallmon.