Robert Nesbit is a Mecklenburg County social worker and he’s a musician.
“We are trying to reach people who aren’t aware of the problem of homelessness in our community and to show them that there is a solution – housing,” says Nesbit, who works for Homeless Services, a division of the County’s Community Support Services Department. On his hours off work, Nesbit helped plan the event.
HousingFest features Grammy-Award winning artists the Blind Boys of Alabama and Jim Lauderdale.
Nesbit provides case management and clinical services at Moore Place, which is Urban Ministry Center’s 85-unit apartment building for highly vulnerable, chronically homeless men and women. The Urban Ministry Center is a County partner. All proceeds from the Saturday concert at the Neighborhood Theatre will go toward a planned 35-apartment expansion at Moore Place.
In the following Q&A, Nesbit, who was 12 when an uncle helped him purchase his first guitar, talks about his social work and music mentors; how music can help end homelessness and the importance of HousingFest 2014 to the community.
How can music help end homelessness?
Music has played an integral role in countless social movements - Civil Rights, the Anti-Apartheid movement, AIDS awareness. I believe that music has the ability to engage the community around homelessness in a unique way - by bringing the issue out from the shadows and into the spotlight.
Who are the featured performers?
The Blind Boys of Alabama is a five-time Grammy Award and Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award winning gospel group. They are one of the singular cross-over acts in all of American music history and one of our greatest musical institutions having been together in some form since 1939. They've collaborated with an amazing array of artists including Lou Reed, Ben Harper, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Prince, Warren Haynes and Bon Iver just to name a few. Basically, if you can think of a musician, the Blind Boys are connected to them in some way.
Jim Lauderdale is a well-known Americana singer-songwriter. He is originally from Troutman, NC and currently resides in Nashville, TN. He has won two Grammys and has collaborated with artists such as Buddy Miler, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, and Ralph Stanley. His songs have been covered by George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, and Vince Gil among many others. Jim's music is a blend of soul, country, blues and bluegrass. He's also a great singer - in his voice you can hear the influence of George Jones, Howlin' Wolf, and Van Morrison!
What is the most important message in the music that an event such as HousingFest can pass along to the community?
The most important message is that change is possible. We can end chronic homelessness in Charlotte. And we know the solution. It's not mysterious or complicated - the solution is housing. Providing housing is both compassionate and cost-effective for the community.
This is the first year of HousingFest and we need the community’s support. My dream is that HousingFest will be an annual Charlotte event bringing great music to our community year after year all for the cause of ending homelessness. I hope that it will become something similar to Farm Aid - an event that heightens public awareness of a problem and invites the community to be an active part of the solution.
Who is your music mentor, hero or idol? Why?
My biggest musical mentor is NC blues guitar luminary Max Drake. He turned me on to blues and roots music at a young age and introduced me to many great musicians. He also made sure I knew what I was doing wrong and showed me how to fix it!
I have hundreds of musical heroes but at the top of the list would be Muddy Waters, Link Wray, Curtis Mayfield, and Don Rich. Recently, I've been on a Pop Staples kick. His guitar playing and songwriting were tremendous. His involvement in the Civil Rights movement is inspiring.
Who is your social work mentor, hero or idol? Why?
My grandfather, though he was not a social worker, had a major influence on my approach to social work. He was very involved in his community delivering Meals on Wheels, helping to provide wood for those who couldn't heat their home, and giving free gas to those who couldn’t afford it when he managed a Citgo station in his hometown. He taught me about the value of respect and compassion.
John Yaeger, the Clinical Director at Moore Place, has significantly influenced my approach to social work as well. Even before we began working together at Moore Place, he supervised me while getting my counseling license. He's an excellent clinician and is able to help beginning therapists develop their potential.