This past year, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir completely changed my life.  I officially joined the choir last September, and ever since, I have experienced unprecedented artistic fulfillment as well as optimism about our world and the influence we can have in it.

We form this beautiful music called gospel by the traditional recipe of the human voice in harmonized chorus, the rhythms of the African diaspora, and the stories and melodies of America.  But unlike most gospel choirs, we are an explicitly interfaith organization.  To me this characteristic has two layers of poignancy.  At first, the obvious:  As religious intolerance justifies some of the most abhorrent violence throughout the world today, we stand as an interfaith gospel choir in front of the global audience as a basic refutation of this bigotry.  But in the Bay Area, where religious dogmatism is not so often the most formidable threat to our social integration, our choir is clearly an example of racial and socioeconomic diversity that is increasingly rare.  In addition to our numerous religious and spiritual persuasions, we are Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, wealthy, working class, old, young, straight, queer, and everything in between.  I have never before in my life been a part of such a diverse family, and I can’t begin to describe how awesome it is.

Inherent in the music and musical tradition we share, we share inclusion and cultivate community—within our organization, and everywhere we go.  We are constantly learning to remember the unquestionable love we all have for each other as fellow humans, and we inspire this work in our audiences as well.  Everyone who attends our performances can feel something very real and very necessary.  Our outstanding director, Terrance Kelly, has that special bravery that some performers have to not just look out at an audience, but to really look at them and see them.  He sees you there and sees your true, beautiful power and sings to that part of you and calls it out of you, such that you are soon singing along—singing with us, but more importantly, singing with the perfect strangers beside and all around you.  I, myself, didn’t even know I had a voice to sing with until he and the choir sung it out of me.  Now I am finally finding my voice and simultaneously finding the self-love as well as the universal love that is mysteriously wrapped up in it.

A few months ago I had the honor of performing with the choir for a group of incarcerated people at the San Francisco County Jail.  Can you guess by now?  Terrence got them singing, too!  It took him a determined amount of affectionate cajoling, but it happened!  I could hardly believe my senses when that cold, hard, sad concrete gym filled with inmates just a half hour earlier was defied by the joyful voices of people with open hearts full of love and pride.  (You see, you cannot sing gospel music and not be liberated.)

Thanks for sticking with me—I’m finally getting around to my point!  Ready?  The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir has been invited to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival this summer, the second largest Jazz festival in the world!  When the producers of the Festival found out about us, they knew they needed to bring our music and our message to the people of Scandinavia (who espouse a high level of social tolerance, but don’t have as much diversity with which to really back it up).  They want Oakland to come and show them how it’s done!  Plus, they know we ROCK!!  We are all beyond excited, and ready to take Europe by storm, but for one detail.  We need financial help.  This trip, the first of its kind for our organization, is quite expensive, and most of our members could not begin to afford the full cost alone.  We did receive a financial “miracle,” however.  Someone has volunteered to match every dollar (up to our goal )we raise through our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, meaning all of your tax-deductible donations will be DOUBLED!  

Please watch this adorable video, and, if you are so moved, please donate what you can.  Even one dollar!  And please feel free to share it with your friends!  It means the “world” to us!  ;)

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