Kroc Center hip hop concerts reach out to young people

Nov 28, 2018 | by Brad Rowland

Kroc Center hip hop concerts reach out to young people

By: David Ibata

Music has long had a vital role in Salvation Army ministry. The Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Atlanta, Georgia, uses a new kind of music to reach the surrounding community: It's started a free concert series, "Kroc Gospel," featuring Christian hip hop artists.

"The Kroc Center is a perfect venue for this," said Lieutenant Antwann Yocum, senior Kroc Center officer. "We have the stage, the lights, all the facilities. There's no reason not to have something like this in that type of space."

The Atlanta Kroc Center and its corps serve Pittsburgh, a working-class community founded in the 1880s by black families whose breadwinners worked in the nearby railroad yards. Pittsburgh prospered in the first half of the 20th century but began declining in the 1950s. It's about three miles south of downtown and now a world away in terms of wealth, jobs and opportunity.

The Salvation Army is a major presence in Pittsburgh. Evangeline Booth College is next door to the Kroc Center, on land that was the Atlanta Theological Seminary of the Congregational Christian Church (a United Church of Christ predecessor) until the Army purchased it and moved its training college here in 1938.

Gospel music is a rich and treasured part of African-American worship; Christian hip hop is one of its latest iterations. Kroc Gospel is a partnership of the Army and Danny Wilson, general manager of "The King" Gospel radio station 1430 AM/105.5 FM ("Where Holy Hip Hop Rules").

Wilson "has a passion for ministry," Lieutenant Yocum said. "He came along and made a proposal to me seven months ago. We talked it out over a couple of meetings and decided we'd like to offer these concerts to the community – not just Pittsburgh, but the whole south Atlanta area."

The Kroc Center provides the space, and professional Christian musicians donate their time. They've included Bravo Charlie, Lyrical Rook, Janelle Haiti, Mister ATL and Sontonia Sloan. Concerts happen 7 to 9 p.m. on selected Fridays. The first concert was in August; others followed in September (part of the Atlanta Kroc's 10th anniversary celebration) and October.

"We're gearing it to the young adult population, but of course we won't turn anybody away," Lieutenant Yocum said. "The vision behind this is to present the gospel in a way that young people might be more inclined to listen."

Kroc Gospel is one of several ways the Kroc Center serves Pittsburgh (as Lieutenant Yocum spoke in his office the afternoon of Oct. 31, a crew was setting up inflatables in the parking lot outside for "Kroctoberfest," a family-friendly Halloween event).

Like other Kroc Centers, Atlanta's has a fully equipped gym and fitness center and offers children's and family activities, educational services, Sunday worship and Christian fellowship through the week.

"It's all really the idea that we want to share the gospel," Lieutenant Yocum said. Every concert begins with a time of praise and worship, then a message, and finally, the music. "We'll have some hip hop artists come in. Some is R&B, some rap, some crossover. The whole idea is the present the gospel in a more relevant and ‘hip' way, if you will."

"Kroc Gospel will inspire audiences with one-of-a-kind holy hip hop music, activities and an empowering word," says the tagline to promotional materials. The series is on hiatus until after the Christmas holiday; the next concert is Feb. 22.

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