Gerald Alston, revered lead singer for the Grammy Award-winning R&B group the Manhattans, will be the first entertainer to volunteer his time to the brand new "OICA Celebrity Ambassador Program" sponsored by Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) of America.
The organization states that "the OIC philosophy of 'Self-Help' and the system of developing the 'whole person' enables individuals to become self-sufficient, productive workers. OIC prepares people for today's workforce with quality life skills development, fundamental education, job skills training and employment readiness."
Alston became aware of the Celebrity Ambassador Program through OIC Executive Assistant Gail Younger, who recommended him to OICA Board Chairman Herman "Art" Taylor. During a recent visit to the OICA offices on North Broad Street, Alston explained, "Gail Younger, her husband is our keyboard player. Gail called me and said, 'Gerald! You've got to call Art!' I was busy and I didn't get a chance to call when I was supposed to, but finally I called Art and we talked. Let me tell you. Art just blew me away when we started talking, because it's something that I really wanted to do and I love helping people."
"The Ambassador Program is designed to begin to tell the story about OIC," Art Taylor said. "Now, Reverend Sullivan (Leon, founder of OIC) was a celebrity because of the force of the personality that he was. Now he's gone, and we're finding that fewer and fewer people know about this great work that's going on in 26 states around the country. So we've decided that we should align ourselves with people who are great in their own right, who still have an interest in what we're doing and want to make sure others know about it. And so, this gentleman here, Gerald Alston, stepped up to the plate and said, 'I'll be the first. I want to know more about what you do.'
"We got him involved. We worked with him to help him understand, and it was easy, because he got it right away. He understood Leon Sullivan– what he was all about. He understands the importance of job training. We're asking that as he moves around the country doing his events and performances that he find a way to mention OIC in that work. You know how when a performer takes a break, and they have a glass of water and they talk about their lives...'I want to tell the world a little about something I'm involved in.' That will help spread the word.
"When he goes into a town, he can sit down with somebody like you and be interviewed, and talk about OIC. Nobody in our organization has that celebrity. So as he does this, he's going to get very good at it, and a lot more people are going to know about it, but then there will be other celebrities he knows who will say, 'Gerald, tell me a little bit more about this thing you're doing with OIC. I think there is something to that. How do I get to be an OIC ambassador?'"
Alston, a polite, polished Southern gentleman whose smooth but assertive tenor can be heard on soul classics such as "There's No Me Without You," "Kiss and Say Goodbye" and "Shining Star," as well as the irresistible dance tune "Crazy," explained why he chose to be the torchbearer for this positive program.
"I want to do it because first of all, somebody helped me, and gave me a chance," he said. "When I met the group the Manhattans, they gave me a chance, and God has blessed me over the past 42 years to continue to sing, have a voice and still satisfy my fans. And I realize that they give to come to see me perform, and it's about time that after the blessings of God, I can give something back.
"And it doesn't take much!" Alston continued. "I can mention it in my radio interviews, I can mention it on stage. In fact, I'm going to Atlanta, and I'll be with a friend of mine – I don't want to call her name as of yet, but I want to tell her about the program. She's an entertainer, and I will just tell her, and tell her about the Web site, and she can go there and find the information. If she's interested, then I can refer her to Art and take it from there."
Alston added that the current state of the economy and the devastating unemployment make programs like OIC essential. "I'm a Shriner, and each class that graduates has to have a program, and my program was mentoring children, but prior to that, I saw how important it is for, not just our children, but for people in general to be prepared for what's coming," he said. "Like now. The economy is terrible, but there are jobs. But we need to be trained for these jobs. The jobs that we've lost are gone, and some of those jobs, they're not gone as in they're not there – but they have advanced, so we have to train for that advancement, and any way that I can help to make that happen, I'm happy to do so."
As this new phase in the history of OIC begins, Taylor is quite optimistic, saying, "I think entertainers are often maligned for not doing things, and I think we ought to make sure that they are encouraged and they are uplifted when they are doing things to give back to the community, and [Alston] is a perfect example. He is not charging us one penny for his time."
In conclusion, the talented Gerald Alston who, with the Manhattans, once waged war against the Intruders, the Delfonics and the O'Jays during Georgie Woods' "Battle of the Groups" at Philly's historic Uptown Theater, said, "It makes me feel good when I realize that I've given something to somebody –given my time, because like I said, God has blessed me to lead me through some trying times. And I can sit here, and I can tell you about some trying times! There was a part of my life when I was out there in the world...really out there! But God brought me through and I've be able to share that with people. If you save just one person, that's all it takes."