At Tyner Middle School Thursday, Marcellus Barnes, who started the Unity Performing Arts Foundation of Chattanooga, leads a choir practice for Saturday's Unity Praise Celebration concert to be held at Bayside Baptist Church.
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At Tyner Middle School Thursday, Kobe Lounds, left, and Lauryn Mayweather practice their performance of "The Fall," before choir practice.


What: Unity Performing Arts Foundation of Chattanooga presents Unity Praise Celebration

When: 6 p.m. tonight. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Where: Bayside Baptist Church, 6100 Highway 58

For more information, to contribute or to join Unity Performing Arts contact Valerie at 423-779-8021 or email



If a local pastor has his say, no child will die of violence or commit crimes because they'll be too busy honing their talents. And they'll practice disciplines such as self control that will help them academically and raise their self esteem while they do it.

The Rev. Marcellus Barnes, pastor of Grace Pointe Church, launched the Unity Performing Arts Foundation of Chattanooga. The group hosts its first concert at Bayside Baptist Church today at 6 p.m.

"Some (youth) are out here profanely speaking some of the things they're dealing with internally and they don't know how to channel it in a good way," he said. "So we want to give this art platform, a place for them to communicate where they're giving life back to the community."

Every child isn't going to become a famous athlete, "but there's a group of kids that can write a poem that will bring you to your knees," Barnes said.

The group of about 50 youths aged 8 to 18 called Unity's Youth Chorale will show off their creative writing, dance and vocal abilities in a production that includes contemporary gospel and Negro spirituals in recognition of Black History Month. Concert tickets are $10.

All proceeds go toward the Unity Performing Arts Foundation of Chattanooga for expenses such as paying instructors and purchasing supplies. Barnes has been working with the group for about a year.

There's no fee for children attending the Performing Arts Foundation. Instructors include professional dancer Danielle Farrell, founder and director of Raw Art Dance in Cleveland; percussionists Daveonta Oshodi and Brandon McNary; and retired McCallie School creative writing instructor Kemmer Anderson, who assists students with poetry and storytelling.

Concert proceeds will also go toward instruments. Unity Performing Arts includes percussion classes, but those students won't play tonight because they have no instruments. They've been practicing by hitting sticks on carpet, Barnes said.

With more funding, he plans to start a visual arts component.

Today, the youth will sing with Sounds of Unity, the racially diverse choir that Barnes started in 2006 in celebration of Black History Month.

He's been working with the youths all year at recreation centers and schools preparing for this event.

The group includes students from Orchard Knob, Howard, Brainerd and Tyner schools. They meet at Orchard Knob Elementary and Tyner Middle schools on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. There's no charge. The goal is to keep youth out of trouble while helping them develop talent.

"Our mission is to unite and empower our members with artistic excellence," said 12-year-old Yaleigh Taylor.

Barnes praises parents who assist him with their presence during practices. Each rehearsal includes a life lesson and sometimes parents provide good insight, said Barnes.

Yolonda McMath was so impressed with Unity Performing Arts that she registered her 12-year-old daughter, Lauryn Mayweather, and 18-year-old nephew, Kobe Lounds, who will perform tonight.

McMath applauds Barnes' efforts to positively direct youth.

"I've always said we have to keep our kids occupied because if we don't, the world will. And I strongly believe that," she said.

At least five people under the age of 21 died to violence in 2016, including 19-year-old Steven Hurston, who was shot to death while allegedly attempting to rob another man; 20-year-old Thomas Simmons, who was fatally shot in the chest while walking; and 17-year-old LaDarious Bush, who died in what police called a gang-related shooting after being shot inside a home on Seventh Avenue.

At 35, Barnes is a father, husband and church pastor who holds a bachelor's degree in music education. He has performed internationally and has appeared with Grammy and Stellar award-winning Gospel Artists like Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin and Bobby Jones. But he's also faced some of the dilemmas that teenagers face and wants to provide them a positive platform for expression.

"I see me in a lot of kids going down that road," he said. "They have talent, but they need a platform. They need discipline and they need accountability so I wanted to do Unity Performing Arts."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.