They sometimes don’t get a second glance from strangers who pass them on the street, but those who ignore them are overlooking people who have something to offer.
That was the basic message at the Homeless Has Talent event Sunday evening at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where those down on their luck and just getting by showed they each have their own special gifts.
The rules to the talent show were simple: Keep your performance to five minutes or less, and keep it G-rated.
Nick Manriquez stood at the microphone set up by the tables on the western end of the park and recited a poem of faith and hope, of dreams being fulfilled with his soon-to-be wife, pregnant with their first child.
He talked of an emptiness in his life that’s been filled with this new love.
Falesha Allen needed some time to prepare herself once she stood at the microphone overlooking the several dozen people who’d gathered in the park.
But she soon belted out a verse of “Amazing Grace” that received generous applause.
“Something just told me to go up there and do it,” Allen, 47, said afterward
The performer who may have turned the most heads was 32-year-old Neil Wood with his yoga demonstration.
He held seemingly impossible positions, stretching and contorting his lithe body in a manner that drew shouts of “Oh, man!” and “Mercy!”
It was the type of performance you don’t expect to see outside of Cirque du Soleil.
“Thank you all,” Wood said as he finished. “I love everyone.”
Wood, who said he chooses to live outdoors, said he practices yoga at least weekly.
He was a little nervous Sunday, and he couldn’t stay on his head as long as he normally does. But he was still happy.
“I’m just inspired by the people around me, and it feels good to inspire them,” he said.
Shari Rightmer, organizer of the event, said she lived in the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter five years ago.
It took her awhile to get her life organized and get a place of her own again, and she remembers how hopeless she and others in her predicament felt at times.
“Everyone was so down and out,” she said. “We lost our passion.”
She’s hoping the talent show — and future ones, possibly twice a year or more — help people rediscover that passion, renew their sense of purpose and alleviate the difficulties of their situation.
No awards were given out during the show (hot dogs, chips and sodas were free) because Rightmer wanted the participants to understand they’re all equal regardless of what their talent is.
She said people living on the streets or in shelters sometimes forget what it is to be happy in life. There were plenty of smiles on display Sunday