‘Voiceless’ concert with Mt. Airy rapper and poet

by Len Lear
Posted 7/13/23

Andre Saunders, a prominent Mt. Airy hip-hop recording artist and parishioner at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, is scheduled to perform July 21 at World Cafe Live.

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‘Voiceless’ concert with Mt. Airy rapper and poet


Andre Saunders, a prominent Mt. Airy hip-hop recording artist and parishioner at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, is scheduled to perform July 21 at World Cafe Live with more than just making good music in mind.

Saunders and a group of fellow musicians will take the stage at the University venue in a concert with a title that represents their mission, offering songs that are “Voices for the Voiceless.” 

“Our aim is to spread positivity and uplift the youth,” said Saunders, the musical force behind albums including  “Moments,” “Honest” and “Unexpected!” With the help of sponsors, the concert at 7 p.m. will offer free tickets to the audience Saunders is most trying to reach, underserved young people and students in the Philadelphia School District.

But music is only one way that Saunders has been involved in community outreach.

In an earlier interview, the Rev. Daniel Kline, associate rector at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, told us, “Andre grew up in our church since he was 13 and is now the Writers Matter’s Poet-in-Residence at LaSalle University. He helps teach poetry and songwriting to young people across Philadelphia, which had its own unique set of challenges with all of the changes to education during the pandemic.”

Saunders, who is finishing up his first book of poetry, has also worked part-time at St. Paul's Church and has been involved in community service projects for years. He has been going to public schools every week for five years as part of the nonprofit Writers Matter Program, mentoring students there, and encouraging them to express their emotions and thoughts in print.

The Writers Matter Program, in which Saunders is the resident poet, was founded in 2005 by Bob Vogel, who recently retired after 43 years as a professor of education at La Salle University. Based on a program in California, Vogel said there are about 3,000 students in 18 Philadelphia area schools and 80 volunteer teachers are now mentoring them.

According to its website, the Writers Matter Program “provides a unique and innovative opportunity for elementary, middle and lower high school students, those in third grade and above, to learn critical writing skills through journal writing as a vehicle for self-expression. Through writing about their lives, the students find an effective emotional outlet at a time in their lives when personal expression and having their voices heard is so important.”

In a recent segment about the program on 6abc, Jerianna Batts, 11, a student at Mitchell Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia, said the program “has given me a comfortable zone where I could just express myself. I have all this stuff bottled up, and I don't really share it with anybody. But when I rap it, it just comes all out."

Saunders, who attended Roman Catholic High School and Howard University, said the Writers Matter programs usually start with a brief introduction and warm-up to engage students. The mentors bring along special guests to each school, such as an entertainer, a designer and a dancer.

“We allow willing students to come on stage and present and perform their writing,” Saunders said. “I, along with our special guest, present our material. We engage in group discussions with students to allow them to share whatever is on their minds and what has influenced them ... We encourage them to continue to work hard inside and outside of school.”

Explaining how the July 21 concert came about, Saunders and his musical friends were brainstorming and making plans for the summer. “Myself,  DJ Will Nasty, Verbosity and Philly's Motivation already work together all the time, so it made sense. We are like a big family. Initially, I wanted to put together a mini-traveling tour, but when we decided to do this concert, I pushed that idea to the side to fully focus on this concert. 

“I want to give a lot of credit to (manager Latoya Wiley) for all of her ideas and work behind the scenes to make sure this concert is exactly what it should be and will be so we can be a voice for the voiceless. I don’t take these gifts and blessings for granted.”

For reservations for the July 21 concert, call 215-222-1400. World Cafe Live is at 3025 Walnut St. For more information about Writers Matter, visit writersmatter.org/poetinresidence, or you can check Andre out on YouTube, Twitter or Instagram, @andres_1220. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com