There's more to the homeless than their living situation.
Silent Voices, a yearly event dedicated to performance art by the homeless of Columbia, strives to show the public the humanity of the homeless. This was the event's third year, but the first time that Tapps Art Center has hosted the annual event orchestrated by the nonprofit organization Homeless Helping Homeless.
“Our goal is to promote the voices of the homeless and to show that they are still people at the end of the day," said Charmaine Primus, board member of HHH. "We want to challenge the stigma of what a homeless person is."
The message of Silent Voices is that everyone has a story and every story is unique, no matter the person. Various homeless people took the stage for spoken word, musical acts and dances about their world, touching on subjects both light and dark.
One young girl performed an improv dance to Christina Perri’s “Human,” dancing on the stage and through the crowd. Her message was clear: despite her circumstances, she’s still a human being.
“Even though we’re homeless, we still want to be treated like real people,” said Charles Witherspoon, president of HHH.
Witherspoon sang in the event with the group Ambassadors of Christ, which provides spiritual assistance to the homeless.
“It’s very important for homeless people to have a voice. There’s another side to being homeless and that’s what this event is showing,” Witherspoon said.
Primus said the event is called Silent Voices because many homeless feel unheard in society.
“Just because they’re homeless, their voice and talents shouldn’t be silenced, and that’s what this event promotes,” Primus said.
It wasn't a pity party for the homeless; rather, it was an event that empowered them to make a difference in the community. As one performer said, “The most powerful weapon is our mouths.”
“I love being with Homeless Helping Homeless because it’s become a part of my family,” said Janet Clark, one of the performers.
Clark’s performance was called "the question and the bubble." She sang with another artist on what someone would do if they saw her on the street. She kept asking the question for various situations: what would you do if you saw her with no shoes, with no clothes or if she were hungry.
A silent auction was held before the performances, allowing the attendees to bid on artwork created by the homeless and local artists who donated their pieces for the event.
Proceeds from admissions went mostly to the performers, and a small percentage went to fund the organization.
Homeless Helping Homeless’ mission is to provide shelter to people in need. The organization strives to get rid of the negative stereotype of how homeless people are viewed by portraying the homeless as respectable, responsible and productive people in the society.
“We want to show people that we may be homeless, but we’re not helpless,” Witherspoon said.