I knew about Up with People long before I understood it. In 1967, I was in the second grade and heard our local Sing Out in Basile, Louisiana sing the theme song and "What Color is God's Skin?" on a local TV talk show. The messages of the songs moved me (although I was just a kid) and by the time I was in high school, I, too, was singing in our local Sing Out.
When I saw my first Up with People show, it was alongside my fellow Sing Out members as we took a bus trip to a city an hour away to see the show. (Back in 1976, an hour bus trip was a big deal to students in a town of only 2,000).
By the time I became a member of Cast A of UWP in 1983, I was already committed to the ideals of the program because I had been lucky enough to be a part of my local Sing Out for four years of high school.
My hometown helped me raise the money for a big part of my tuition, and I promised I would return to somehow repay the community. I hope I did that when I reorganized our local Sing Out after Up with People visited our little town one year after I returned from my cast year. Over the years, we were lucky enough to get a cast here two others years as well. My little Sing Out was thrilled to perform during those years for four different Up with People casts whenever they were in Basile or the immediate area.
At night in my sleep, I often dream of my year in Up with People. During my 32 years as a full time teacher, I always kept my cast photo above the board in the front of my classroom. I spoke of my year and my castmates often to my students and took many busloads to see the show anytime a cast was within the state of Louisiana.
My year on the road with UWP continues to inspire me and push me to give to my community as our local newspaper editor, our church choir director, and as a member of our local little theatre board. It also has enabled me to take on some interesting jobs opportunities that I would have never had otherwise.
Although I am a certified English and social studies teacher by degree, I became my school's band director in spite my lack of formal music training. When approached for the position, my principal said, "You were in Up with People so I think you can handle the job."
I replied, "I sang in Up with People. I can only play a little guitar. Do you want a guitar band?"
He said, "If you don't take the job then we won't have a band." That was it. With the true spirit of Up with People in mind, I took the position, thinking it would only be for a year. That year became 10 years and included my passing of the Praxis exam in music. I attribute my global music education through UWP for enabling me to pass the test because my only formal music training was a piano class for non-music majors that I took years after traveling.
Now that I am retired from full time teaching, I have taken on the part time position of Talented Music and Theatre teacher. Since I am not certified to teach talented students, the state of Louisiana granted me the position based upon my portfolio of work in music and theatre, primarily including clippings from my year in Up with People year.
I am thrilled to have been able to continue my participation in Up with People over the years through events such as the Branson Alumni Project and the recent Tapestry Cast show in Orlando.
I am currently organizing the 50 Year Reunion for our local Sing Out here in Basile - which will be held in the summer of 2017. Although the group no longer exists, we have had several reunions over the years and even sang for our town's centennial back in 2011.
During my cast's Christmas dinner in December of 1983, we passed out gift boxes to cast members based upon a characteristic that we felt that each cast member exhibited. Each "characteristic" box was wrapped inside another box. The first box was large and the final box very small. When fellow cast member Tag Purvis of Mississippi opened his box and saw the word "loyal," he immediately called out my name and gave the box to me. I was shocked, not because I did not think I was "loyal," but because I felt that so many others were 'loyal."
Now that I am writing this letter, I feel as though it is Up with People that has been loyal to me. Its music began moving me as a second grader. Its spirit guided me as a Sing Outer in high school. Its Cast A83 touched me in ways I am still realizing today.