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For Members Of Homeless Choir In Dallas, Trip To NYC Meant Not Feeling Invisible

Courtney Collins
Jonathan Palant, founder and director of the Dallas Street Choir, leads a recent rehearsal with members.

The Dallas Street Choir just returned from a whirlwind tour through New York City and Washington D.C., performing four times and seeing all the sites. For many members, a trip like this was a first — because they all happen to be homeless.

The trip was about more than performing on a grand stage. It was about seeing another part of the world, and having fun.

It's the first Dallas Street Choir rehearsal after the big trip to New York and D.C. and the mood is kind of like the first day of school after a long summer break.

The 22 members who made the trip all stood up and talked about their experience. Michael Brown still can't believe he performed at the most famous concert hall in America.

"At Carnegie Hall for God's sake. I mean, it's prestigious. You know the saying is, 'How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You practice, practice, practice!' And I practiced, practiced, practiced and I got to Carnegie Hall. It was beautiful."

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA News
Michael Brown is a member of the Dallas Street Choir.

While the Carnegie performance was definitely a highlight, there were a lot of small moments that seemed to mean even more to the homeless men and women who made the trip. They traveled and performed with another group, a community choir called Credo based in North Oak Cliff.

Brown says there was no "us" versus "them" dynamic.

"We were all on the same bus, we were all in the same hotel. Regardless of who had what money, we all had money that day. We all got food to eat that day," he says.

Brown took his first flight on this trip. He didn't love the landing, but says he'd do it again. He took a boat to see the Statue of Liberty. He strolled through Central Park. He didn't feel invisible.

"What the trip meant for me was I could actually go above and beyond homeless,” Brown says. “I don't have to have a roof to be successful."

Brown sleeps under a bridge right now. His choir mate Christina Boyer is also unsheltered.

"I kind of use the canopy of the stars above me to shelter me and use him as my shield and sword," she says.

She says the trip was awe-inspiring. They sang at two churches, Carnegie Hall and the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

Boyer says she loved singing with Credo; the power of both choirs together was something she didn't expect. And she says she'll never forget seeing the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

"One single carnation fell on my side on the ground next to where we put the wreath down. And to me it was like the symbol of love and beauty and blood. And so it really, really meant something to me. And it was an honor," she said.

"I don't have to have a roof to be successful."

The honor, says Dallas Street Choir founder and director Jonathan Palant, is all his.

"You hear the joy in every note that's sung. You hear the street,” he says. “You hear one's life, you might hear one's struggle. You hear the hope."

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA News
Christina Boyer is a member of the Dallas Street Choir.

Palant says watching his 22 choristers, several of whom had never left Texas, experience two new cities was electric. Even the best intentioned people, he says, often forget that homeless men and women have more than just basic needs.

"To go to New York City and look up at Times Square and see the lights and say 'That's where the ball drops; I wonder where so and so stands announcing that?' Or going to Carnegie Hall and saying 'Ella Fitzgerald sang here!?' It's unrivaled. It's better than a job; it's better than shelter."

For nine days, these homeless men and women were singers and tourists. And nothing less.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.