Mano a Mano Against Poverty

Planting Seeds of Hope

Broward politicos, black and white, turned out for the event, as did local black preachers like Pastor Mack King Carter, who prayed in his deliciously gravelly voice for the ground where the $60-million complex should be completed in 2010 to be made holy. Even Betty Osceola, of the Seminole tribe, made the journey to request, in her native tongue, that Jesus bless the crowd and the gospel complex.

Those are some tough acts to follow.

Yet five teenaged sisters from Boynton Beach provided the most inspirational display of all. The Mays girls, ages 13 to 18, have been "ministering" through interpretive dance since 2000; they started out rehearsing in the family den (their parents are Pastor Anthony and Carla Mays of the Boynton-based Restoration House Empowerment Ministries International ) and soon were touring with gospel greats as the Chenaniah Praise Dancers.

So twirling for a few hundred people from a portable stage plunked in a field should have been no sweat, right? Clad in sparkly purple, black, and silver robes — ooh, and white gloves! — the young ladies breezed onto the stage. They'd be dancing to "I Believe I Can Fly," sung to a recording by gospel goddess Yolanda Adams (not R&B bad boy R. Kelly, who won a Grammy for his rendition of the same tune, which he wrote).

The group's choreographer, 17-year-old Ashanti, was lip-synching her heart out while her sisters flapped their arms in unison like birds in flight when, suddenly, there was complete silence — the music cut off. These gals didn't miss a beat. They kept on, in perfect coordination, executing the moves they had memorized. It wasn't the first time music has disappeared during one of their live performances, Ashanti said afterward.

That Sunday, though, a friend would come to the rescue. Eighties R&B hitmaker Shirley Murdock stepped out from behind a red velvet rope where she was sitting with other gospel bigwigs and walked calmly to the stage. The imposing Murdock, of Dayton, Ohio, had performed before with the girls, and her "spirit just leaped" watching the awkward, music-less moment.

She thought: "My babies!" Murdock grabbed a microphone and belted the last few lines of the tune, in pitch-perfect a cappella. "Come on, girls, do your thing," she beckoned. And the Mays sisters did.

The crowd stood. They clapped. They whooped. For they had just witnessed a moment of almost miraculous stage improvisation, a trope of music and dance that somehow exceeded its own conception.

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