For Local New Jersey Causes, CHRIS ROCKWELL is the Premiere Gatherer

Most people have one or more causes or charities they support. It’s usually an organization whose message resonates with them from their own personal experiences or that of someone they love. Alleviating illness, homelessness, abuse, and poverty are just some of the issues men and women will champion and rally behind, often due to personal experiences.

But in order for a charity to get off the ground, there always has to be a supporter who, from the start, is willing to market and volunteer at fundraisers and events—that one special person who can spread the message far and wide. It needs a champion who can bring people outside of that supportive circle. These charity advocates are not only fearless, they are also well trusted in their communities. They are gatherers—of people and of support for a charitable mission.

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Sitting with poet and rap artist Chris Rockwell in a quaint coffee house on a crisp sunny morning in Belmar, NJ for an interview evolved into a three-hour conversation with an insightful and passionate man. His commitment to making a difference and giving back began with a simple sweater, he says.

Several years ago, when Chris took the stage at an open mic night, some of the members of his audience voiced their disappointment that he hadn’t worn a sweater that was referenced on another person’s Facebook page. Chris recounts this as a pivotal night for him because he realized his words and actions had an impact on his growing audience. They were paying attention, and that awareness meant he had a responsibility not only to those who supported his poetry and music, but to the outside communities at large.

Chris began to take a serious look at what his words and lyrics were saying to his audience. “I wasn’t always a good man,” he admits. “My friends and I recently recalled some of the things we did when we were younger…things that didn’t even register the bat of an eye—the way we treated and looked at women, how we approached them, and spoke to and around them.” He also began to understand that he took a lot of things for granted, and with that realization made the decision to live with intention.

That choice and awareness had Chris apologizing and making amends to the people he hurt. His music and poetry were created with a new purpose, and he was inspired to use his leverage as a performer with a solid and always-growing fan base to promote a diverse group of entertainers, as well as extend a helping hand to organizations in need.

He spearheaded coffee house art shows and open mic performances in various communities, opening up opportunities to introduce artists to new fans that would support their work. Pushing further to get involved on a larger scale, Chris began holding fundraising benefits in conjunction with his concerts. He organized a food drive with Move for Hunger, as well as winter coat drives, offering discounted ticket prices to fans who brought canned goods and coats to his concerts. He worked hand in hand to organize back-to-school drives with Konscious Youth Development & Service (KYDS), a non-profit in Asbury Park whose mission is to help create and prepare future leaders through holistic intervention.

For one small local organization, Chris gathered several high-profile local bands to perform at a benefit concert. The newly formed non-profit needed funds to help promote its free, peer-led support meetings and programs for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Chris met with the founder and then reached out to the musical community, asking them to perform at the concert free of charge, and donated the ticket proceeds back to the organization.

While it’s essential for all of us to be aware of our actions and words, for Chris it is imperative, he explains. “Find what makes people emotional, and that is your door,” he says. “Play by their rules and listen to their personal experiences.” For Chris, making a difference and giving back isn’t limited to one cause. For this gatherer, it’s about helping everyone and giving as many people as possible a chance to be seen and heard.

By: Maureen Spataro

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