Rickie Byars Beckwith embodies rhythm and joy. I first met Rickie, or Rickie BB as she is affectionately known, in August of 1999 when I was taken to the Agape International Spiritual Center (www.agapelive.com) shortly after moving to Los Angeles from New York City. She is an inspired singer/songwriter/musician, Agape's Music and Arts Director and the director of the renowned Agape International Choir.
Woman, artist, mother, wife, grandmother, auntie, sister, friend, I have had the pleasure of getting to know and love her throughout the years for her heart, soul, honesty, humor, brilliance, hearty laugh and creative genius. She was supportive and generous toward me when I was planning the launch of the Million Mamas Movement. Rickie's husband, wisdom teacher and author, Michael Beckwith, is the founder of the 9,000 member Agape International Spiritual Center. With Michael and on her own, she has created some of the most beautiful, healing and inspirational music I've ever heard. Rickie taught me about Kuumba, which means creativity and joy and discovery and creating things together. She continually stretches herself creatively. I wanted to talk with Rickie about creativity because as a mom and a parenting educator, I find that children have such rich creative lives very early on and it informs their life experience. It's vital that our children have arts in education and have ways to express themselves. I'm so curious about the creative process. My husband is a singer/songwriter and when inspiration moves through him, he goes into another zone. When I pray, when I dance, I go into another dimension.
I asked Rickie recently if she was always musical and if she remembered hearing and perceiving things through music as early as 4 years old. Rickie's answer expresses the inner life of a child so beautifully. Rickie said:
"I did. I mean, it was even earlier than that. I can remember when I was 2 years old, I remember really seeing light through a blind and just knowing that something was happening that was really special, with the blind, with the furniture, in the room. I became aware that I knew and then at 3, I remember this piano in this house that we lived in in the projects on Gibbs Street in Charlotte, NC and I remember there was little wooden toy piano. I have a whole story about it. I have a whole book of stories about my youth, (Let My Soul Surrender). But, this particular one is about the songs I would play on that piano and I could always pick out melodies. I thought they were my songs."
Capturing the perception of a child so perfectly, Rickie went on to say:
"I thought that they were my songs. And when I'd hear them on the radio, I was happy that the people remembered how my song went cos I had forgotten one last little part of Ol King Wenceslaus. (laughs) Y'know, cos that was the first song I really remember playing, was Old King Wenceslaus (hums the notes and melody). I remember picking that out, nobody in my house showed me that. I could hear it. I could always hear it and I can still hear it."
Rickie and I talked about the connecting power of music and shared about her experience traveling to Africa.
"I first went to Africa in 1992, it was so the place I wanted to go. And to feel the village and when I met the the people I was going to work with while I was there, the choirs, the people, the sounds of S. Africa. The way the harmonies just impacted everything cos sometimes, even with this festival, it may appear we're just talking about music but we're not just talking about music, we're talking about sounds and the healing power of sound and the power of sound to bring people together way faster than anything else. So, when I went to Africa and I saw the healing power of sound and how we were able to be friends right away and learn each other's songs and they taught us their dances and we taught them our dances, it just made a forever and eternal, indelible print on my soul."
After all that Rickie has seen, done and accomplished, I asked her what led her to her creating a festival. Rickie said that,
"In 2008, at the request of Peggy Callahan, former co-founder of Free the Slaves, (and now founder of Voices of Freedom), I went to Nepal to engage in work in some of the villages that were stationed at the foot of the Himalayas, about 3 hours outside of Katmandu. Parents were sending their children off to do very hard labor. Because they had hurt themselves doing that same hard work and didn't know how they were going to take care of their families, the children were the next in line to help carry those big blocks of granite on their heads in a satchel, a little 6-year-old. Just informing the families and letting them know that they didn't have to do that, that there were people that were there to help. Those kinds of trips change you. When I came home I said, look, I went all around the world to Nepal, I need to talk to the people 'down the street' now. There are people that look just like me, my color, right down the street, that I haven't spoken to in years. I don't even know who they are. There's a whole world down there that was needing some rhythm and joy and the reminder of who they were. I went down there and began to make really powerful friends that I have in my life now. I've watched people get on their feet who didn't even have a place to stay or that lived in a shelter. To watch them come into their own because I took the time to go and meet them. But I had to go around the world to get it. Y'know what I mean? It was like I was global but I went local."
And local she has gone. True to her word, Rickie began to look in her backyard to see what she could do to bring the folks in the Los Angeles area together. And she did it. Rickie founded last weekend's Rhythm and Joy Festival -- 3 days, 3 stages, 80 artists.
Wendy Silvers is the founder of the Million Mamas Movement, a spiritual therapist and a Compassionate Parenting Educator. http://www.millionmamasmovement.org