Singing from the heart

Published 9:04 pm Monday, January 30, 2006

By By Matthew Nascone
Daron Norwood traded 20,000 screaming fans a night for 200 adoring children a day. Norwood delivered a powerful and emotional presentation Jan. 25 as part of his "Keep it Straight" program in the gymnasium of Escambia County Middle School, but the journey to ECMS is the more interesting tidbit of information.
Norwood, a country music singer, had his first single hit airways in November of 1993, but there was a problem brewing inside Norwood, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol.
This vice tore at Norwood for a long time until he met his wife, Kim and she made him turn his life around.
"I remember the date clearly," Norwood said. "My wife came up to me Nov. 3, 1995 and said if you don't quit using you will die. That was definitely the lowest point in my life."
I quit using drugs and alcohol and I went from doing 200 shows a year to 55 because I was not on the radio as much."
Norwood said the turning point came when his current Chief Executive Officer, Fred Spears, asked him to do a concert at a school in Texas.
But this was not a normal show, Spears wanted Norwood to talk to the children about his life and his wrong decisions after his performance. Norwood was confused by what Spears wanted him to do.
"I never imagined I could help people," he said. "The light came on that morning. Now it was about the music and not the addictions."
Since that time, Norwood has given his presentation to more than 300 schools. But after two and a half years he was questioning how doing this program would be funded.
"I asked God how was this going to support my family," Norwood said. "Fred Spears told me it would pay for itself and he was right."
Norwood trusted Spears and they brought in Mary B's Biscuits in Texas as the program's first sponsor. Then when Norwood moved the program to the Florabama area he saw an infomercial by Chuck Stevens.
"I saw Chuck and he gave a powerful infomercial and I had to meet him to see if he could help us," Norwood said. "I met him and 20 minutes later I had the $65,000 worth of free that is our truck we ride in."
Chuck Stevens Chevrolet and Mary B's Biscuits are the main sponsors of "Keep it Straight." Other Atmore area sponsors include United Bank, First National Bank &Trust, Regions and Pepsi Cola Bottling Company of Atmore.
The number of sponsors has grown, but Norwood said the focus has remained constant throughout.
"I do this for the kids who come up to me and say 'You changed my life,'" Norwood said. "I always tell them it is not about the fall, it is about dusting off your knees and continuing on with life."
A lot of times it is hard for a white man to get through to an African-American audience, but Norwood has the perfect way to do just that.
"I open every show with the Beverly Hillbillies theme song," Norwood said. "The only difference is I will turn my hat backwards, let my shirt hang low and do a rap version of that same song. It is always a great way to get these kids to see I am no different from them."
Most people would think that would be good enough, not Norwood. And he showed he wanted to be on the same wavelength as the children when he talked to the students at ECMS by using first-year principal Zickeyous Byrd as a prop.
"I brought Zickeyous Byrd out and untucked his shirt, put his tie on his head and had him dance to the music I was singing," Norwood said. "Then I told them 'I don't care what color you are, I love you no matter what.' I open up with music and comedy and the kids open up to me."
Norwood said after the comedy and fun is done with, he will jump into serious mode and get his message across to the students in a forceful manner. But he always has one key piece of information for the children.
"I always make sure to let them know I am not mad at them, but I am mad at the drugs and alcohol and the attitudes they cause," he said. "'Keep it Straight' is not just three words, it is a way of life. And I want everyone to take a large bite out of life."
This strategy seems to work for Norwood because the children flock to him like baby puppies after their mother when the show is over.
Byrd believes in the ideas Norwood preaches.
"His message is clear," Byrd said. "We constantly try to teach that message in our character classes, but any opportunity we can get to say it in a different way we will take advantage of it. We were grateful of (Norwood) and Chuck Stevens and it was a privilege for the students and the teachers to hear that message."
Norwood also performed at Escambia County High School and Rachel Patterson Elementary School.

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