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.