By Kelley Evans
More than $475,000 was raised on August 25 for Agape Child & Family Services during the agency’s HeartLight Gala at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. With the help of Dr. Maya Angelou who was in Memphis on behalf of the 42-year-old agency coined for helping children and families in need, roughly 1800 people of Memphis and surrounding areas joined in Agape’s fundraising efforts. In its 14th year, HeartLight is Agape’s largest fundraiser and is set to provide funding to the various programs that benefit families in Memphis and Jackson, TN. The night opened with musical entertainment by the Soulsville Music Academy and was led by Agape’s Executive Director David Jordan and WMC-TV 5 Anchor Kym Clark.
“I am excited that Dr. Angelou cares about our local community and traveled to share in this benefit with Agape,” Jordan said. “It is with great honor to have her in Memphis, where philanthropic efforts as well as sharing love and compassion for others will help our community and our generation.”
A video about the agency was viewed as time approached for Dr. Angelou to take the stage. Local philanthropist, entrepreneur and Founder/CEO of EVS Corporation Gayle S. Rose introduced Dr. Angelou. Rose had just finished addressing a room full of dignitaries and private donors during a sponsorship dinner where she told of how she embarked on charitable efforts involving homeless men. Dr. Angelou sat in the background as she listened to Rose speak of the great work of one of America’s literary heroes. Angelou bowed her head, smiled and closed her eyes. She appeared pleased of the words she heard. As Rose finished her introduction, the curtains raised and Dr. Angelou was seated on stage. She received a thunderous applause.
“Dr. Angelou – I love you.” One audience member screamed.
At that point no one was seated. On their feet screaming and cheering, the audience bid the warmest welcome to the author, poet, filmmaker and civil rights icon. Tears flowed from the eyes of many as Dr. Angelou, taking in the ovations, belted out a hymn. Her deep voice mesmerized the audience. Silence grew thicker as she commanded attention.
“Agape is love,” Angelou said. “Sometimes we use it loosely, but it means I take responsibility for the time I take up and the space I occupy. It means I love you….I take responsibility for myself as I treat you, strangers and friends.”
As Angelou went on, she addressed the crowd for an hour. Her wit coupled with her knowledge and wisdom garnered everyone’s attention. She told of a childhood rape that left her mute for a number of years, referencing the many obstacles that children may face.
“At the risk of sounding proud…ungrateful, I have now 71 doctorates,” Dr. Angelou said.
“Imagine that. And schools all over this country named for me. Imagine it. See where I came from Stamps, AR; a mute. And today you’ve come to hear me speak. Imagine it. And I have come to thank you. Thank you for being rainbows in somebody’s life.”
“Thank you Memphis,” Angelou said to close her night.
A representative with The National Civil Rights Museum then honored Dr. Angelou for a lifetime of community education, awareness and public service. Agape Child & Family services has been serving Memphis since 1970. For more than 42 years, the agency has focused on providing healthy homes for children and families who are homeless, in foster care and living in our community with fewer opportunities. By connecting children to loving, permanent families through Adoption Services, serving homeless women through the Families in Transition (FIT) initiative and establishing transformative relationships in fragile communities through Powerlines Community Network (PCN), Agape can serve people in Memphis in a variety of meaningful ways. The event also recognized individuals and families that have been served by Agape as well as achievements and exceptional contributions and services that Agape and their partners have provided.
HeartLight 2012 was presented by IMC Companies, and with generous support from Engineered Medical Systems.
In a letter from City of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr he welcomed Dr. Angelou to Memphis.
“Dr. Angelou’s voice and body of work are abounding treasures of American culture,” Mayor Wharton wrote. “It is extremely gratifying to know of her support for Agape Child & Family Services and the type of good work organizations like Agape advance.”
Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr. wrote in a letter to Dr. Angelou in honor of her trip to Memphis on behalf of Agape.
“It is my distinct honor to welcome you to Shelby County and to Agape’s HeartLight 2012 event at the Cannon Center,” he wrote. “We are truly privileged to have such a distinguished guest in our community.”