Concert celebrates unity, social action

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

St. Louis’ well-known Jewish rocker Rick Recht brought a message of diversity and understanding to Harris-Stowe State University on Wednesday night, during “Knocking Holes in the Darkness,” the latest performance in the “Tear Down the Walls” initiative.

The event utilized music and spoken word performances from a diverse group of musicians, students and religious and community leaders to focus on “Tearing Down the Walls” of bigotry and racism, and promoting unity and social action.

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Recht, the artist-in-residence at United Hebrew Congregation, and creator and producer of the initiative, provided a steady stream of original compositions and updated rock arrangements of traditional tunes. Joining Recht and his band were several soloists and choirs from churches across the region, who combined to create a spirited and soulful evening of music.

Interspersed with the songs were prominent speakers from the community, including Rabbi Randy Fleisher from Central Reform Congregation, Pastor Katy Hawker from Evangelical United Church of Christ in Webster Groves, and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, and several teenagers recited quotes from famous civil rights and social action pioneers on the night’s themes of love, courage, education, action, faith and responsibility, and respect.

Over 200 people attended the concert, which is the second “Tear Down The Walls” performance in St. Louis since the initiative began with its first show in Memphis in January, 2006.

Recht said that music is an easy medium to bring people together from different communities, which can open doors to interfaith cooperation and social action.

“We hope to not only inspire audiences through the powerful synergy of the interfaith and multicultural program, but to educate them about all the incredible work already being done by organizations in St. Louis,” Recht said.

“Tear Down the Walls” is a collaborative effort, supported in part by numerous community organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, Interfaith Partnership, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Cultural Leadership, Gitana Productions, Jews United for Justice and the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis, in addition to United Hebrew Congregation, Central Reform Congregation and Congregation B’nai Amoona and other local churches and organizations.

In addition to the interfaith and multicultural concerts, “Tear Down the Walls” also sends 30 area teens to take part in the ADL’s “A World of Difference Institute — St. Louis Project.” That program provides the teens with sixteen hours of training to recognize and combat bias and to help be a positive force for change in the community.

One of the speakers at the “Tear Down the Walls” concert was Jesse Swanigan, from the Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, who exhorted the crowd to recognize the “power of one.”

“You might ask yourself, ‘What can young people do to change the world?’ The answer is ‘everything,'” Swanigan said.

“Dr. King was only 37 years old when he left this world,” he continued, “but he did more in his twenties and thirties than people who live three times as long. The point is it’s not your age, it’s your willingness to speak up and stand up to be a voice for the voiceless.”

Pastor Hawker pointed to the lessons of civil rights pioneers. “In the legacy of the Gandhi, King, Mandela, Mother Teresa, we find the torch to carry into our world, to bring light to the darkness,” she said.

“We have seen the power of the light and the torch is in our hands. With this torch, we can knock holes in the darkness. We can get involved in lighting the way for others. We can make a difference,” Hawker said.

Before starting into his rock ballad Always, Recht told the crowd that helping others is, in a way, serving God.

“There is this idea that we were all created in God’s image,” Recht said, “and so the way we treat each other is, in fact, the way we treat God.”

Rick Recht performs regularly at United Hebrew Congregation, and a “Tear Down the Walls” CD, recorded in October 2005 before the first set of concerts, is available through the Web site at www.teardownthewalls.com.