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Gospel choir returns for MLK celebration

Pat Wright and company celebrate their 30th year with a workshop, concert.

“Did I ever tell you you’re my hero?” DesShanes Brooks sings to the fifth and sixth-graders cross-legged on the floor of the Sakai Intermediate School gym. “You’re everything I would like to be.”

The 12-year-old vocalist – and the other young performers from Seattle’s Total Experience Gospel Choir who took the school stage Thursday – brought a tuneful message of love and hope that had the audience of nearly 600 clapping in time.

That message is the heart of the 30-year-old choir, says founder and director Pat Wright.

“You must have a love for people,” Wright said, “a genuine love that doesn’t look to see what you’re going to get out of it, but what you can give to someone else.

“Because what you give out always comes back to you.”

The choir has found receptive ears, both touring this country and in overseas engagements.

The heavy schedule doesn’t seem to faze Wright.

“We’ll leave here and sing another concert today, then two performances tomorrow and another on the weekend,” Wright said. “We just keep going.”

Wright will return to the island Jan. 24 to host a gospel workshop and concert. Her group, which has led workshops here for the past four years, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

The group sang at Sakai to honor the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday will be celebrated nationwide this coming Monday.

The event also honored the birthday of Wright herself, who turned 60 this week.

For the young singers, the choir is a big extended family, Wright says, providing both support and discipline.

“I’m Mother,” she said, “and I’ve been Mother to their mothers. These young people that are with me have been with me for 25 years.

“(Singers) Tanisha and Gena started when they were 4 and 6. Now they’re 29 and 31, and their kids are in the choir.”

In 30 years of mentoring the young singers, Wright has seen her charges change.

“Kids are not the same,” she said. “They know a lot, but they’re not necessarily wise. They’re exposed to a lot, not necessarily good. They do a lot, not necessarily for the betterment of mankind.”

Wright ascribes the shift to fewer positive role models for kids.

That’s one reason the Total Gospel Experience exists, she says, to steer young people right.

“It’s important to be there for these kids,” she said. “We all have to try.”

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