By Tana Michaels
SAGINAW – “Why can’t we believe that God made us to be just the way we are?” asked Respect Fest keynote speaker Dr. Darlene Franklin. Franklin is the senior pastor of Full Truth Fellowship of Christ Church, the “Oldest African American LGBT congregation in Detroit. She spoke to a crowd of about 75 in the Malcolm Theater of Performing Arts in Saginaw Valley State University.
High hopes were voiced by many involved with Respect Fest. “I hope we pack the place,” said Deb Barber, the Las Vegas headliner and co-creator of the event, at White’s bar, 2609 State in Saginaw, on Thursday night before the concert.
That was echoed by Joy Clark, co-creator and vice-chair of Perceptions, a non-profit LGBT community organization for residents of the Midland, Bay City and Saginaw areas. “We hope to have a huge turnout of people who ask the tough questions that’ll break down the stereotypical walls,” she said.
Barber added, “It changes lives when you start respecting people.”
Although turnout was light, the energy level remained high – and the six hour event moved along well. The free festival entertainment began with Kalamazoo’s Dana Scott on acoustic guitar. Some people sat to listen while others explored the tables where they could learn about diverse backgrounds of people from differing faiths, from Isam, to Christian, to Wicca, to the LGBT friendly Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). People could also gain information about Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the anti-war effort, AIDS, the Underground Railroad for battered women, and the sexual assault program.
“(We came to Saginaw) in support of diversity and respect. We hope it (Respect Fest) grows and becomes an annual event.” said Amy Timbers of the duo from Ypsilanti, Out of the Belly, who also performed at the free fest.
Amanda Helton, 19 a student from the SVSU GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) sold baked goods at the Fest. Her boyfriend, Najib Gaines-Hanna 19, also a student, stopped in to say hello. Najib and Amanda are an interracial couple. “I like the fact that we’re like an example of diversity. That’s what Respect Fest is all about.” Gaines-Hanna said.
Before he took the main stage, acoustic indie-pop performer Andy Reed 30, from Bay City said, “Respect makes the world a better place to be. It’s going to take time. It’s not going to happen overnight. It takes things like this to raise awareness.” Reed wrote and performed an original song, “Smile with me” for the event.
Jeanette Jackson and the Omni Praise Choir charged the audience with contagious energy. They displayed their diversity in terms of age. Their stage time included performances by Jackson’s 8 year old daughter, Asha, 9 year old, Donna ‘DJ’ Bull and the 17 to 21 year old Omni Praise Choir. Forty-something Jackson and Omni Praise Choir singer, Tina Bryson, finished each others sentences backstage before the show.
“We want to be able to get the message across of community and cohesiveness, young, old and beautiful.” Bryson said.
“We want to show respect and acceptance of different ages. Young people have ideas and concepts that are meaningful,” Jackson said.
“…and older people aren’t always out of date.” Bryson finished.
“There’s a lot of age diversity in our group.” Jackson added.
Deb Barber rocked the house with original music from her new CD, The Best of Life. She and former band member and current banker from LasVegas, Dawn LaBonte, did a few acoustic songs before going back to the full band for a finale that brought all the performers on the stage together for a rousing chorus.
Clark said she always remembered what a man said to her years ago. “You know, I will never knock on your door and invite myself into your community. You have to be the one to invite me in.”
“And that’s what we did.” said Clark. “We put out our hands and invited people in.”
Tana Michaels is a freelance writer from Saginaw who also performed at the event.