Big Mike: Giving Back

Oct 6, 2019     Belinda Elliott   0 Comment     Film

“The Norfolk Street Choir is one of the jewels in my life that I look forward to every Friday,” explains Mike R., a member who has been with the choir since its inception. “I look forward to giving back to the community and putting smiles on people’s faces.”

He grew up enjoying music, but said he didn’t realize that he could sing. 

“I remember when I was a teenager I used to listen to a lot of country singers and rock and roll,” he recalled. “One Christmas my mom bought me a record player and I used to come home from school and I would go in the kitchen and put a record on the record player and sit there and sing, so I guess I was always into singing, but I’ve always been shy about it.”

As he grew older he found that music helped his emotional well-being. Throughout his life he had struggled with mental illness–just one of the barriers he faced through the years. When Mike was 3 days old, his mother tried to sell him. His grandmother took him and raised him, but in early elementary school she pulled him out of school to help care for his ailing grandfather. After the death of his grandparents, he went to live with his Aunt Martha who raised and nurtured him. He views singing in the street choir as a way to pay tribute to her memory and give back to the community. Music also lifts his spirits.

“Music and songs have always been one of the things that I like the most to get me out of my  depression,” he explained. “Another thing that got me out of my depression was to write a lot of short stories. I write sci-fi stories.”

A long-time fan of shows like Star Trek, he said he often imagined he could write episodes similar to those he watched each week. He also became interested in drawing elements from the series. 

“I would look at the shape of the spaceship or the submarine and think, I can make that ship better. I can design that submarine to be sleeker. That’s what got me into doing mechanical drawings,” he said. “I recently went to my first Comic Con and talked to an artist there about him designing the cover for my first comic book.”

Another passion project that he is currently focused on is his volunteer work with the Norfolk Community Services Board. A group that he works with there is exploring what it would take to open a daytime, support-run center in Norfolk that would offer programs for people to learn skills in computers, healthy eating, cooking and building maintenance. 

“I know it’s going to be a success because we’ve been a nonprofit organization going on five or six years now, and we’ve had a positive response from people wanting to join and asking how they can help and donate,” he said. 

Whether it’s through his music, his comics or his community service, he said nothing brings him more joy than giving back to others. “My greatest strength is giving back because I see the rewards,” he said. One thing my aunt taught me was that it’s more fun to give than to receive.”

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