Like many people, Sunday night I watched the live presentation of the musical “Grease”. While most of us know the movie, it really was a Broadway production seven years before Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta sang their way into our hearts recreating high school of the 1950’s.
The cast had a huge job as they scurried between multiple sound stages, bumping into the audience which was seated and positioned all along the sets. If trying to fill the shoes of those who have performed the program was not enough, Mother Nature decided to writer herself a roll. El Nino became a character as the cast members danced with umbrellas to avoid the pelting rain. Oh yes, the outside scenes were often really outside!
One of the cast members was more than adequately prepared for his role. A graduate of Julliard, Wendell Pierce played the role made famous by Syd Caesar – the athletic director/coach. Pierce was born in New Orleans, the son of a teacher and a custodian, a highly decorated veteran. His father was in a segregated military unit and of his father’s service Pierce has stated: “”When the country wasn’t loving my father, my father was loving his country. It’s the ultimate act of patriotism.”
Pierce has been in over thirty movies and appeared in dozens of stage productions as well as nearly fifty television programs. My personal favorite role of his was as the psychologist in the program “Numbers”. He also hosts the nationally syndicated radio program “Jazz at Lincoln Center”.
In August of 2005, Pierce was home visiting his parents when a category five hurricane struck nearby New Orleans and caused flooding in his home town. Pierce and his parents evacuated and it was more than six weeks before they could return to view the damage to their home. Twenty feet of flood waters had done horrifying damage and it took a year to rebuild and repair.
Having seen the destruction firsthand, Pierce did not just help his parents rebuild their home. He started the non-profit Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation to help residents of the area buy back their homes and rebuild new, affordable solar and geothermal residences.
In 2012, influenced by the First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to encourage supermarkets to provide affordable fresh produce, Pierce joined with two partners to start a chain of grocery stores called Sterling Farms. They have since opened a convenience store division called Sterling Express. Both operate in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, an area especially hard hit by the levees failing to withstand the flooding. In 2013 the American business magazine “Fast Company” named Wendell Pierce “100 Most Creative People in Business”.
Pierce is just one example of someone who has used their life to help others. While offering a rescue from life’s tragedies, he has creatively provided jobs and renewed passion for all. Everyone needs a hand and rescuing at some point in their life. It might not be something as big as a category five hurricane; hopefully, it will be something much less catastrophic. However, together we can help recovery and renew life. Together we can build a brighter and better future.