It’s hard to imagine James Brown, the legendary Godfather of Soul, as a down-and-out kid. But his daughter, Deanna Brown Thomas, said that her father grew up as a child without a lot.
“He didn’t let that stop him,” she said to a group of Harmony House youth during a recent Christmas party hosted at the transitional housing facility in Newark for homeless families. The James Brown Family Foundation threw a Christmas party filled with food, games, music and gifts, and brought along some big name celebrities as an extra treat.
Grammy nominated rapper Ja Rule made a guest appearance and helped to distribute more than 20 bicycles donated by the James Brown Family Foundation to the children. He was accompanied by his wife, Aisha, and two sons, who star on the MTV reality show “Follow The Rules.”
Harmony House youth cheered for Shanice Williams when she entered the room. The Rahway native and breakout star of NBC’s “The Wiz Live!” was on hand to also help distribute bicycles and wish the youth a happy holiday.
The bicycles were kept out of sight as a surprise. For the big reveal, the celebrity guests briefly disappeared behind the room divider and after a countdown, Youth Coordinator Angela Hall parted the divider, which elicited excited screams from the children.
Harmony House serves homeless families, with the primary goal of helping families move from homelessness to permanent housing and, ultimately, to self-sufficiency. The average stay for a family ranges from six to nine months.
Shalom Rouse, 10, said he was excited to give his new bike a test drive. “I’m gonna ride it,” he said, grinning as he gripped the handle bars.
For dinner, children such as 11-year-old Ashley Green enjoyed pizza and juice. Afterwards, the youth gathered in the activity room for caroling and games.
The youth and staff of Harmony House closed out the evening with a big “thank you” to the foundation and the celebrity guests who attended. But before ending the evening, Brown Thomas opened several boxes of fluffy, baseball-sized balls and battled with the children in an impromptu indoor snowball fight.
For Brown Thomas, relaying a Christmas message of hope and encouragement to the youth was her main message. “If you don’t respect yourself, nobody’s going to respect you,” she said, urging the youth to stay in school and listen to their elders.
“I love you and God loves you. Merry Christmas,” Brown Thomas added.