It’s Saturday afternoon, and soft sounds of a choir singing are flowing from the Charles E. Hayworth Memorial Chapel into the brisk winter air as students pass by.
Inside those doors, though, the voices are so powerful they lift members of the Genesis Gospel Choir to the tips of their toes as the notes fall and rise. The pews are empty while they rehearse for the upcoming Black Heritage Service on Sunday, but their voices are anything but.
They sway back and forth as they sing gospel songs. It’s the kind of toe-tapping and hand-clapping music that leaves any listener feeling filled with the Spirit.
Now in its 26th year, the High Point University Genesis Gospel Choir has performed hundreds of times on campus and in the community to share the Gospel through worship and praise.
And they’re thriving for a reason.
“Talk to anyone who’s seen them perform – they illuminate you from the inside out,” says Preston Davis, minister to the university. “They draw the Holy Spirit out of you in profound ways.”
Bridging the Gap
Genesis was founded in 1990 by Dr. Rudy Brown, an HPU faculty member at the time. Brown created the group to serve as a spiritual outlet to unite all students through African American traditions. When he decided to pursue his ministry full-time, Brown passed it along and the choir became a student-led organization.
“Our main service is to embody the spirit of Christ and to pass that spirit onto the community of High Point, both the university and the city,” says HPU junior Sydney Richards, the choir’s current president. “We want to bridge the gap with diversity and our faith on and off the campus.”
The choir has brought many people together: students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and more. Tesia Harrison, a 2015 HPU graduate and previous choir director, remembers last year’s 25th anniversary celebration like it was yesterday. Genesis alumni from across the years gathered in the Chapel to honor decades of music and fellowship.
It was a special moment for many.
“The energy and spirit was so high that day, and I was so happy to see former members that helped make Genesis what it is today,” Harrison says. “We sang a song called ‘What Do You Want the Lord to Say.’ When singing that song, it honestly felt like that was what God was saying to GGC in that moment: ‘Well done’ for what you have done over the past 25 years and ‘well done’ to what you are doing right now!”
The Power of Song
Today, the 34-member choir is directed by Reggie Gillespie, a local music minister in the Piedmont Triad. In addition to performing at HPU’s annual MLK services, they average about five or six performances each month, and it’s open to all students from all walks of life. Genesis performs at a variety of community churches and services, too.
“When selecting songs for our repertoire, we involve our students and find out the songs that they want to sing,” Richards says. “We do try to keep the basis of the African American spiritual hymns because that is part of our culture. But we sing upbeat contemporary music, traditional hymns, anything that you might hear in a predominately white church or a predominately African American church.”
On Tuesdays, a weekly Bible study lets choir members connect with each other and discuss the cornerstone of the choir.
“We want to make sure that we understand what we’re singing about and what our mission is through our service,” Richards says. “We preach the Scripture and share in the Word, getting to know how it might permeate differently from your life to mine.”
The choir members appreciate the support their fellow members bring.
“The choir is two-fold for me,” says HPU senior and choir member Mayeesa Mitchell. “I love being part of a great Genesis family that makes me feel welcomed and at home. Secondly, it allows me the opportunity to leave all of the other pressures from school, work and clubs outside the room when we practice or even perform. It’s a great way to center myself and get focused for the week.”
Leading the Charge
As the choir’s current president, Richards feels it’s her duty to lead by example and spread awareness about Genesis. But she also wants to welcome everyone with open arms. To create a safe and nurturing environment. To make sure everyone feels loved and appreciated.
“It’s such an honor to be president of the Genesis Gospel Choir,” Richards says. “I sometimes laugh and pick on some of the students in the organization. I say, ‘I feel like I’m your mom because you make me so proud.’ I also make sure that I take that extra step outside of choir rehearsal, and meet with those students who aren’t as talkative and let them know – if you ever want to talk, or if you ever need anything, I’m not just the president. I can fill that role as a friend as well.”
Richards says her favorite song they perform – as of this semester, at least – is “Grateful” by Hezekiah Walker:
I am grateful for the things that you have done
Yes, I’m grateful for the victories we’ve won
I could go on and on and on
About your works
Because I’m grateful, grateful, so grateful
Just to praise you Lord
“This song really embodies the spirit of Genesis and our gratefulness for this university,” says Richards. “We are truly grateful to be a part of such a community where we create relationships that won’t part when we graduate.”
On Sunday, the choir will fill the Chapel once again with songs and hymns that honor Black History Month. But really, these students are a testament to that all year long.