By Sherita Pryer
Charlotte musician Dennis Reed helps young people dream about where they want to go in life and encourages them to work hard to get there.
Reed, who attended Northwest School of the Arts and earned a bachelor’s degree in music business from Catawba College, created Inspire the Fire (ITF) when he was 17 to help young people, ages 10 to 19, succeed.
What started as a choir workshop for youth in his community became a nonprofit organization that serves approximately 400 young people each year. “I was bored in the summer — there was hardly anything to do. This inspired me to create a workshop alongside my pastor and friends,” Reed said. Coaches guide the participants in various areas of the arts including dance, voice, theater, spoken word, rap and visual arts.
Reed said ITF has reached multiple generations over the past two decades. “Some of the young people that started off with us 20 years ago are working for the program now,” he said. Many former ITF youth are now performing their special talents all over the U.S. “Our former student Christopher Darby is currently working with Tyrese Gibson on the upcoming film, “1992,” said Reed.
Reed and his group God’s Appointed People (GAP) have performed with famous musicians and celebrities including the lateDr. Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, BeBe Winans, Kirk Franklin, Fantasia and former president Barack Obama.
Reed said he met Fantasia through her hairstylist who needed help putting together a surprise album release party in Charlotte. “Fantasia hired musicians that I brought in for the album release party to tour with her that following year,” Reed said. Fantasia earned her first gospel hit with the song “Necessary,” written by Reed. “Necessary,” performed by Fantasia with Dennis Reed and GAP, topped the Billboard’s Gospel Digital Songs chart in 2016. Reed continues to work with Fantasia on various projects.
Reed has been working on several projects with both ITF and GAP. Inspire the Fire has partnered with other nonprofits to create pop-up events. The group held a celebration at the Charlotte Shout festival in April that included art, fashion, food and music.
Inspire the Fire also held a vibe night at Camp North End and gave youth an opportunity to participate in an open mic session. “Throughout the summer we’re partnering with local YMCAs to host level ups, and Inspire the Fire’s big event will happen end of summer 2022,” Reed said.
“It honestly feels like we’re about to burst something brand new,” he said. GAP and ITF will drop new albums this year, and GAP is going to tour 30 European cities this winter, he added.
Reed’s advice to aspiring teenagers who would like to start their own non-profit or music group is to “simply just do it.” He added, “It’s not necessary to have everything figured out. “Your job early on is to try as many things as possible. Try it now because if you fail, there’s still time to fix it. When you get older, you begin looking for more security.”