By Ingrid Fernandez
Trinidadian contemporary gospel artist, Gerard Placide, visited Belize to share his music and inspiring story of how his drive, talent and determination took him from homelessness to the White House, among other great achievements.
Born in the area of San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, Placide enjoys a prolific career in contemporary gospel music and motivational speaking. He is also a former US army officer, and has received recognition from the US Congress for his music and work to foster cultural integration. He has travelled to Italy and met with Andrea Bocelli, and travelled to India to meet with Amitabh Bachchan and was honored with a day in his name in Georgia, Atlanta.
His early life, however, was difficult and similar to the the lives the youth of Belize are facing. Disagreements with his father put Placide on the streets of Port of Spain at the early age of 14, where he lived for more than six years.
Cognizant that many youth and children lack internal resources to confidently make it in the unforgiving environments they live in, Placide shares his life message to inspire youths to strive for their dreams. “You see my glory, but you need to hear my story,” he said.
His uncertain situation on the streets of Port of Spain, brought him into gang territory where he witnessed crime, drugs and various forms of abuse and brought him face to face with many dangers and challenges.
The first child of gospel singers, Placide always had an aptitude for music, which eventually became his way out of destitute poverty. He used his talent to survive on the streets where he would sing and people would pay him tribute.
On the streets, he learned to craft his talent by listening to different types of music. He describes his music as an eclectic mixture of different experiences, techniques and sounds from different cultures and languages.
He was singing on the streets, one day, when his voice captured the attention of members of the Salvation Army in the area distributing food. After learning about his homeless state, the members asked for him to gain access into the male youth shelter.
Placide’s self esteem had been severely affected by the abuse he experienced on the streets. He had attempted suicide seven times by the time he entered the youth shelter. He credits the work and mentorship of the youth shelter members and his faith in God for restoring his mind and self image.
His life and career started during a concert which showcased the talent of young Trinidanians, in which the youth shelter members participated. The event was also attended by Trevor McDonald, the first Trinidanian to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
McDonald was so taken by Placide’s talent that he went backstage after the performance to congratulate him and invite him to England to sing for Princess Diana and Duchess Sarah Ferguson’s Chances for Children program.
Chances for Children created an opportunity for him to go on to sing in the US, where he would sing on trains and the streets, but it was while singing at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where his life would change.
Among the congregation were Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were amazed by the young Placide and lobbied for him to gain asylum to stay in the US, where he could foster his gospel musical career, coming in contact with people such as UN ambassadors and Bill and Gloria Gaters, who would propel his music further.
Spending eight years in the US army, fighting in the Iraqi and Afghan wars equipped him with key internal resources, such as resilience, survival skills and discipline that later enabled him to prosper in his musical career, and was the start of his community outreach, he said.
His message to the youth is for them to identify their talent and take a proactive and passionate approach towards accomplishing their dreams.
“I didn’t wait for a job; I created a job, via my music. That’s where it starts. Instead of just sitting down, find what you are good at, network with people of like manner, dress the part and watch where it goes.”
Today, he speaks on behalf of the immigrants facing xenophobia in the US and for youth marginalized by poverty in the Caribbean. He is currently working on his second album, which he described as Caribbean Soca Gospel music.
Placide is planning to return to Belize in early January to conduct a series of concerts and to extend the work of the church into the community and empower the youth and children of Belize. “I didn’t bring religion, I brought a story of restoration, of salvation, of a second chance to encourage young people,” Placide said.