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Wendell B. Sings AVillage's Praises

by Mahalia Cummings

Through performing and being among the attendees of Mississippi Day, Wendell B. got a piece of home right here in the South End. Wendell B.’s energy is magnetic. The connection that was forged between he and the people of the South End was electric. The soul and power that he brought was reflected right back to him. Albany’s residents sang along to hit after hit with the sensation as he performed in the Lincoln Park Bowl on that warm Saturday afternoon. Although it has been over a week since he performed, AVillage is still bubbling with excitement over what he brought to the South End. In his own words, Wendell represents “the real side of music”. It’s not just about bringing a few hit songs, it’s about delivering talent that serves as a vehicle for love, warmth, and a familial spirit. “I just wanted to make sure that I left AVillage and Albany with a touch of Wendell. That’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to make sure they knew me. And that when I left, they would remember me.”

They most definitely will. People felt the music. It was palpable. The people of the South End sang along from somewhere deep, reveling in an afternoon that was meant for family, homeland celebration, and the reigniting of history. And what drove our featured performer to culminate all of that with honest-to-God good music? To bring his very best to the community? The answer is simple. “My biggest push while I was there was Willie White. This man was unbelievable.”  Wendell continues, “He reminded me of myself. He’s a professional. He wants to get it. And he wants to get it right. His push, his drive is just - Oh my god. How could you let this guy down? How?“

Wendell admires Willie White’s mobilizing spirit. He admires what he brings to young people, whose approval and engagement strike him as a marker for success whether it be in activism or in music. In Wendell’s eyes, the relevance of a movement and of a musician is inextricably linked to the engagement of the youth. This was demonstrated in one of the most significant parts of the event: the march from Old St. John’s Church of God in Christ. When Wendell saw the parade go by, he was awestruck: “There were so many young people behind him,” he says, speaking of Willie. “And that’s what made me really say: ‘this guy is a force to reckon with.’ He really is because it’s our youngsters nowadays that we are sincerely concerned about. And so to find so many young people behind him was very impressive to Wendell B - to my whole staff - we were just... we were impressed. So my whole drive while I was there was Willie.”

Young people were just as impressed with Wendell B. at Mississippi Day. One young man came up to Wendell and expressed surprise at how much he sounded like his records. Wendell and I note how hard young people can be to impress. He has a discerning spirit about many things when it comes to business, but he also has an eye for what resonates with people. Wendell, like many others, could see the tangible evidence of AVillage’s impact. The everlasting impact that the South End had on him is intertwined with AVillage. “All I can tell you is AVillage. AVillage. These people here are on something so positive and so fulfilling that who would come there and miss that? Where they can walk past the people who are not with them and still that person knows: ‘Hey, that’s AVillage.’. They salute them, they say hey what’s up, or whatever, and still recognize that this is what goes on in our neighborhood here. This is AVillage. So I would say: so much positivity. I was very - I loved it.”

It reminded him of Wesley House, a kind of safe haven for the youth that extended outreach and activism in his community of St. Louis, Missouri as he was growing up. He visited the center often, finding comfort in a solid place of support. He said AVillage struck him with how much it reminded him of that stalwart of his childhood. Much like AVillage, it was a place everybody in the community felt welcome. A place that offered a leader, positive activities, and the opening of possibilities for those who feel limited. Mississippi Day and AVillage are about showing people the possibilities through reaffirming a legacy and giving them hope for a broader and more successful potential future. Wendell B. said that it’s those values that AVillage “took [him] home to”. He lauds people like Miss Clara, whose stories are so rich and crucial to the fabric of what Mississippi Day is about. “Maybe that’s where all of the automatic love comes from. My mama’s from Mississippi, My daddy’s from Alabama. My mother’s whole family are all Mississippi people. All my life I went to Mississippi. This is the reason for the song Mississippi girl.”

And as for those young folks he speaks so highly of? Wendell recognizes the effort of AVillage to provide the tools for young and old to live their fullest lives, with the promise of equity and justice. It’s those foundation blocks that can set people up to truly embrace what they desire to accomplish. When I asked him what he would tell the people of the South End who have a dream, he spoke of the way the world has opened up around social media. “Let’s say for instance a big company like Universal or Warner Brothers’ or so on - so many big companies - they had the power to do things or have your music overseas tomorrow morning at 8’oclock. When this was just impossible for YOU. I mean and that was pretty much the thing that you bought into. Is they could reach what you couldn’t reach. They could do what you couldn’t do.” But he marks the distinct difference of this “new era”. Now, the power is in young people’s hands to control their own narratives, to make themselves known and market themselves. Now, you don’t have to depend on the majors, literal or metaphorical. Wendell recalls being on the other side of success, and being “blessed enough” to get to the new side. He, in a lot of ways, is a mirror for the people living in the South End. He relied on community building when he was growing up, had to take advantage of his opportunities as they came. But, that was then. Whether it’s music or an endeavor that’s entirely different, the theme of the times is opportunity through media, through a kind of innovation that is completely modern.

I ask Wendell to tell me what comes to his mind when I say the word “empowerment”: a core tenant of AVillage’s mission. “Willie White is empowering these young people with this knowledge and this wisdom and this history. That’s what comes to my mind when you say [empowerment].” And it’s clear that this impression is not a dime a dozen. Wendell has been to a lot of places, but he is keenly aware of how special the South End and AVillage are. Wendell talked about those travels and how he processes them. One of the things he tries to do is bring back a memory from each place he visits. It’s safe to say that Albany is added to his list as a standout, and it won’t be the last time he’s here to make memories. “...there’s definitely gonna be time number 2 and 3 and so on and so on,” he says. We can’t wait to welcome Wendell B back.


Wendell B: Captain of His Soul
Wendell Brown sits down with AVillage to talk about the power of music, legacy, and authenticity
By Mahalia Cummings

When I pick up the phone on Wednesday afternoon, a deep baritone sounds through my speaker. Even though I had just recently become acquainted with Wendell’s music, the sound is familiar and comforting. It sounds like the voice of someone whose stories you want to listen to. It’s not a voice that’s lost on Wendell’s fans. They listen to his stories through his songs, and that voice seals the deal. Our conversation is rich and multi-layered: Wendell is not just a big voice. He is a force of positivity and uplifting honesty. His values connect deeply with his fans. “The biggest thing that my fans love about me and my music is I touch something in their life that has happened,” he says. “And they were able to say ‘wow, he is really speaking the truth on this.’ That’s what I carry. I carry truthfulness in my lyrics.”

Wendell B. is a self-actualized and skilled musician. He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, gleaning inspiration from his uncles who were in a gospel group. At one time he found himself mimicking them, inspired by how each of them could show their own identity through music. But he found his own sound.

As far as what he hopes to bring to the people who attend Mississippi Day? The answer is within what is arguably his biggest hit: "Mississippi Girl". If Oprah’s standards are anything to judge by (and they most definitely are) the song has definitely made its mark. Wendell tells me that Ms. Winfrey herself has downloaded it. But the song’s meaning is even bigger than that.

 “...this song has had the strength of what Mississippi means in it. You can go all around the world. You can go to London, France, Detroit, Chicago, Italy. You can come all the way back and go to Alabama and bump into a Mississippi girl. The power of Mississippi is one of the reasons I wrote this song. Plus, my mama is a Mississippi girl. So what I bring to AVillage on this weekend is — I hope to let them know that the word Mississippi is where they come from, where their roots are from, and where their strength started from and to let them know that it’s one of the most wonderful words and states that the whole world knows about. And Wendell B is gonna bring it to you.” We can’t wait, Wendell.


Environmental Justice Grant Awarded To AVillage And Radix

Building on our work in exposing the environmental health risks at Ezra Prentice Homes & the South End, AVillage and the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center have received a $50,000 Environmental Justice grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).


Latest Results From Our Ezra Health Surveys

This poster describes the Ezra Prentice Homes Initiative, which began in response to the concerns about heavy truck and train traffic near Ezra Prentice Homes. To address concerns about the health effects of exposure to air pollutants, AVillage…,Inc. & the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center developed community health surveys to assess residents’ health conditions, needs, and concerns. Surveys were administered to residents, and meetings were arranged with policymakers, government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency & the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and truck & train industries to prioritize the health & well-being of residents.


It (Almost) Never Rains On Earth Day

Although we like everything to be perfect, and try to make everything go as according to plan, April 22nd was just another reminder that some things are completely out of AVillage’s control. Despite the lack of sunshine, and occasional “heavy mist,” South End Earth Day (SEED) was another great success.


EcoJustice Summer!

This Summer, the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center along with A Village Inc., will conduct its five-week EcoJustice Summer Youth program for youth ages 14 - 18.  Participants will have the opportunity to earn an income while being engaged in hands-on work and learning related to local ecological and social justice issues.  Based out of the Radix Center, youth will be employed in food justice  activism through the maintenance and operation of Radix’s one-acre urban farm as well as numerous gardens throughout Albany’s South End.  Produce harvested from these gardens feeds local residents and supports Radix’s educational programs.  Days also consist of educational opportunities, with workshops, guest speakers, and outdoor field trips to local sites. The dates for the program are from Monday July 3rd through Friday, August 4th.


Ezra Tenants Association Reactivates In Face of Legal Action Around Oil Trains

Ms Charlene Benton, the long time president of the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association, has decided to retire from her position due to ill health. Bebe White, vice president of the Tenants Association, has called for a meeting of all tenants to discuss holding elections for new officers.
The meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29, in the Ezra Prentice Community Room. This will be a Tenants Association meeting, not an AVillage meeting.
Under HUD rules, all tenant associations elections must be monitored, administered and verified by an independent organization in order to be official. The meeting on March 29 will be so interested residents can learn more about the process and express their interest in serving as an officer. The date for an election will be set after that.
At the meeting last Wednesday, Rev. Marc Johnson, who is serving as Interim Executive Director of AVillage, said this is a particularly important time for tenants to get involved. He said word has reached the Tenants Association officers that Global Partners LLC, the company that owns the black tanker cars that carry crude oil and fuel products to the Port of Albany, is discussing a negotiated settlement with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.