Winter Park community ‘heroes’ give youth the stage |

Winter Park community ‘heroes’ give youth the stage

by Lawrence Norman
Director, Grand County Center 4 Excellence

“You just don’t understand.”

This is an all-too-common theme when youth and adults engage in conversation. Communication (or the lack of) has become a growing concern for communities everywhere who need both young and old people who can speak the same language.

Russell Robinson is someone who is bridging that gap.

As everyone set up for the Sunday’s FunkFest youth encore performance at his business, Shipwreck Landing North in Old Town Winter Park, Robinson played a song by Oscar Brown Jr., “an Original Rapper from the ’60s,” he explained. The previous week’s FunkFest received an eye-popping performance by a young local rapper and lyricist (Necktaflow) who graced the stage doing collaborations with bands and event co-host Clip-1, and Robinson was letting the young people know that he can relate, or “feel” where they are coming from.

“We’re happy we can help in any way we can,” Robinson said. “(Larry) seems to be connecting with the kids really well. He’s giving the kids an ear to the older generations and he’s genuine about it. I haven’t seen it this organized in a long time.”

Robinson has been nurturing and helping out local young people since he came to Grand County more than 30 years ago. He babysat dozens of them, now in their 20s, and recognizes that music is potentially a common ground for both young and old. So it was no surprise that co-owner Tiffany “T” Jensen and Robinson invited youth musicians from the Neighborhood Heroes, DJ Winter Freeze, and Necktaflow to play on the outside stage.

Local musician Tim Connelly, who regularly plays there, offered to give the young artists nearly two hours to play their music. Connelly has lived in Grand County for 21 years and started playing in Chicago in 1963, at the age of 10. Connelly recalls the support he received from the local community in Illinois and how much difference it made.

In the local scene, Connelly has been no stranger to helping out youth, raising five girls of his own in Grand County. He has also performed in the schools through the Grand County Blues Society’s Blues In Schools program.

“I want to give these young people here the opportunity to learn about and play music the way others have helped me when I was young,” he said. Connelly patiently helped the musicians set up Sunday, answered all questions the anxious young performers had, and joked with them to keep a sense of calmness around the stage.

Sunday rendered yet another amazing afternoon of performances on the stage of the Shipwreck. Nekctaflow worked his magic with the Neighborhood Heroes band while DJ Winter Freeze kept things rollin’ between songs. Friends and parents who came to see the performers also had an opportunity to see some of the people here in the local community who are supporting youth with their time and resources, not just with words.

Remember, “It takes an entire community to raise a child.” The Grand County community can provide recreational facilities that have the ability to service interests such as music, educational and supervised activities for young people seeking excellence through developing their gifts and talents. Perhaps we can look toward facilities such as the community centers and churches to offer places for youth to develop those skills. For now, the youth and Grand County Center 4 Excellence thanks Robinson and Connelly, a couple of community “heroes” who made the encore FunkFest event possible.

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