Contend Earnestly: Cry Out! For the Fatherless

Friday, April 09, 2010

Cry Out! For the Fatherless

Two of my friends, Celestine and Tara Ezinkwo, have started a mentorship program called Cry Out! I have written about them before, but now our community is starting to get wind of their efforts. I am really proud of what these two are doing for the sake of the glory of God. The following video and article was written by the Renton Reporter. Enjoy.

Renton recording studio looks to get kids off the streets and lead others to do the same

Renton Reporter Staff Writer
Apr 08 2010, 9:42 AM · UPDATED

Renton's youth are finding their voices and learning how to shout out on behalf of others.

"We complain that there is a lot of violence in the streets, but we don't do anything about it," said Celestine Ezinkwo, a 26-year-old rapper.

Working alongside wife Tara Ezinkwo, he opened a recording studio in downtown Renton called Cry Out to not only get youth off the streets but to teach them how to lead others in the same way.

The couple comes from Los Angeles with a passion for inner-city youth and a heart for social-justice issues.

"If we start talking to these kids and treat them like human beings, they're going to change," Celestine said.

Renton High School is just a few blocks away, so teens walk to the studio after class to hang out.

Cry Out has an open-door policy, but most days Tara, 29, gathers the teens for discussion and attendance.

The teens squish together on a corner sofa. Photos of Third World children hang above their heads. There are about 80 kids on the roster with about 27 regulars, Tara said.

"They would be here 24 hours a day, if we let them," Celestine said.

Some days the teens just hang out, and others they write and record music together.

In a freestyle session, Celestine plays a new beat loud enough to silence out distractions. Three of the group's rappers sway with the rhythm.

Music unfolds from one rapper’s mouth like a prayer that takes time to form its meaning. Ironic self-praising remarks intermix with deep thoughts and poetry.

Then like a man cutting into a dance, another rapper begins his verse. Messing up here is a cause for laughter, not criticism.

"Everyone is welcome here," said 17-year-old Chris Robinson. "No one is judged like that stuff out there."

Regular attendees are invited to weekly workshops that either offer practical skills for producing and creating music or develop leadership qualities.

Celestine is planning to produce an album with the teens that focuses on their stories and social-justice issues.

"Our whole vision is to have them (students) cry out their story and to cry out for those who are oppressed," he said.

Understanding how much time kids spend at the studio, Cry Out balances the distraction by requiring students with bad grades to attend tutoring sessions twice weekly with a teacher.

The students also work through relationship and sometimes behavior problems.

"We do a lot of life-on-life mentoring," Celestine said.

To enforce life lessons at home, the Ezinkwos try to meet all of the teen's parents, Tara said.

"That way we're working in the same direction," Celestine said. "Sometimes the parents can reverse what we do."

The name Cry Out comes from Bible verses, Proverbs 31:8-9.

"It says basically be a voice for those who can't be a voice for themselves," Celestine said. "Be a father to the fatherless, a mother to the motherless."

For Celestine, Cry Out is the fulfillment of a prophecy.

He was raised in Nigeria, where immigrating to the United States seems an impossible task for most.

At a church event a prophet called on him and told him he was going to make music in the United States.

"I didn't believe it at all, I thought it was crazy," Celestine said, adding that he decided to write the prophecy down for the sake of curiosity.

About six months later, his name came up in a visa lottery, and he was on his way to stay with an uncle in New York.

Studying international business in Los Angeles, he met Tara at a Bible study. The two both had a passion for working with inner-city youth.

Tara worked for Athletes in Action; but as they discussed their marriage, they learned the youth program only accepts marrieds as a couple.

Celestine wanted to pursue his passion for music, he said. "We wanted to start something of our own."

At about the same time the couple met Mike Gunn, pastor of Renton's Harambee Church, which runs a popular after-school program called The HALL.

Gunn heard Celestine rap at a conference in LA, and invited him to perform in Renton.

After the show, Tara and Celestine had found their next ministry. They moved to Renton in September 2009.

Eventually Gunn offered the basement of his church to open the studio.

At the time it was filled with abandoned boxes, food and books from the building's former tenants, but it came with its own entry.

The volunteer-led remodel was done on a tight budget, but hard work made up the difference.

The studio has two meeting spaces and a small office linked to a recording box with a separate entry.

They opened in February.

Like Harambee, Cry Out isn't a bait-and-switch tool for proselytizing. The Ezinkwos do invite the kids to Friday night Bible studies at their home, provided they have parent permission.

"Our goal was too keep kids off the street," Celestine said. "Our goal is to provide kids with a place they could go and be themselves without feeling pressure whatsoever to be a certain way."


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