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Atlanta homeless men's choir inspires audiences

4:01 PM, Dec 24, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA, Ga. -- At the corner of Central Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive, they wait for the next meal. They wait for the rain to pass. They wait for life to get just a little bit easier.

Donal Noonan wanted to give Atlanta's homeless something worth waiting for.

"I decided to set up a choir, to work in conjunction with the shelter and start a choir, so I did."

When Noonan is asked if anyone thought he was crazy he answered, "Almost everybody. Almost everybody."

Marvin Coine and Roosevelt Jones remember the day Noonan, the Music Minister at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, asked them to join his choir.

Coine recalls, "This tall white guy comes in and says anybody want to join a choir?"

Roosevelt Jones remembers Noonan pointing at him and asking, "Would anybody like to be in our Christmas choir?"

It seemed like a frivolous request -- for a group whose lives are focused on surviving that next day on the streets. But they said yes.

"I love being in the choir. I look forward to it. Tuesdays and Thursdays I look forward to coming here and busting my pipes open," Coine says, laughing.

Noonan is asked if the men can sing. "Oh yeah, oh yeah, I believe the term is dropping it like it's hot. Yeah, they're fantastic."

The choir created a shift. It eased the isolation of the streets. Making music was lifting spirits and lives.

Noonan says, "Whether you are an executive, whether you are a pauper, whether you are a president, it doesn't matter. Music has the power to make community."

A week before Christmas, the choir has its first concert, at City Hall, a place they'd never normally enter, for fear of being thrown out. They are nervous.

"I know they're prepared," Noonan says. "I know that they can sing, I know that they're talented, and I know that they're in God's hands."

As people clap and sing along, you can almost forget these are the same men so many shrink and turn away from on the streets. But now they are the center, the sound of Christmas.

Noonan says, "It sounds so cliché. You see people on TV all the time and you say 'oh it's so inspiring'. This is genuine. These guys blow my socks off."

It's a moment of pride in a life often judged. We forget they were somewhere before they were here. Roosevelt designed a bike and spends his days researching and looking for jobs.
Marvin is writing a book of poetry and walks the city submitting job applications.

And they are not called 'The Homeless Choir'. The men chose 'Atlanta Homeward Men's Choir', named for where they pray to be, someday.

"That's my want for them, that they find a home," Noonan says. When asked if that means he wants to lose them from the choir, he pauses a moment before saying, "That sounds really bad, but yeah."

Coine says, "I'm going to get home. Wherever home is , I'm going to get there."

Sitting in a pew of the church where he practices, Roosevelt Jones says, "Every homeless person waking thought is to one day not be homeless, so for me, it's a constant thought."

He falls silent and he drops his gaze.

On the corner of Central Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive they wait in the shadow of Christmas. Within the bricked walls of the Shrine, for a few precious hours each week, they belong.

They are part of something beautiful.

WXIA

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