3rd annual Gospel & Soul hits plenty of high notes

By |2005-09-22T09:00:00-04:00September 22nd, 2005|News|

DETROIT – Whether you call it happenstance or the Holy Ghost, something was definitely moving in the air at the third annual Human Rights Campaign Gospel & Soul event last Saturday.
After hearing the remarks of Brenda Warren, whose gay son Arthur “J.R.” Warren, Jr. was slain in West Virginia in 2000, gospel artist and candidate for Detroit City Council Ortheia Barnes said she was moved to sing a special song. Her version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” was stirring, and Warren listened with tears in her eyes. What Barnes didn’t know – couldn’t have known – was that the song had been J.R.’s favorite, a fact Warren shared with her after the performance. Was the selection chance or did a higher power actually choose it? You decide.
Warren was getting ready to leave for work on that fateful day five years ago when authorities arrived unexpectedly at her home. Initially, they told her that J.R. had been struck down by an automobile, but Warren didn’t buy it.
“I knew in my heart that my son had not been hit by a car,” she said.
In the days that followed, Warren struggled to piece together the grisly truth. What she found out was that her son had been kicked unconscious by two men wearing steel-toed boots. Later, they dumped him on a rural road and kicked him some more before repeatedly running over them with their Camaro.
“His skull was cracked; his legs were crushed; his liver was split in two; his foot was broken,” said Warren. “As his mother – as his voice – I want you to know what those facts were.”
When the case came to trial, Warren had to listen to the defense attorney besmirch her son’s memory and slander his good name.
“To hear all the things that were said about my son … but to go in with no hate in your heart and come out with no hate in your heart, only a Jesus could do that,” Warren said.
Donna Payne, a senior community outreach organizer with HRC who traveled to West Virginia after J.R.’s murder, spoke following Warren. She urged Michiganders to get out, get active and get political.
“We have a phenomenal amount to work to do and it’s going to take all of us to get some things done,” Payne said, before mentioning homophobic local minister Keith Butler and his plans to run for a Senate seat next year. “He’s going to be looking for all your support and you should send the message, ‘I think not.'”
Following the event, which featured performances by such acts as One Voice, the Full Truth Praise Team, Delphine Alexander and Emily Daniels, everyone adjourned to the fellowship hall of the First Unitarian Universalist Church for a tasty reception.
“Each year there’s something different that comes out of the event,” said Michelle Brown, a member of HRC’s board of governors and a co-chair of the event. “This year it was more spiritual. There was a greater sense of community.”
Much of that can, of course, be attributed to the music, which is at the heart of the Gospel & Soul event.
“All the music motivated and inspired me,” said Rev. Mark Bidwell of Metropolitan Community Church, who attended the event for the first time. “It changed my sermon for Sunday. It was awesome.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.