Cookie Marks, Danny Sylvester and Marvin Couch started the Boys to Men Choir back in 1995. Some 135 young lives were touched by that effort over the years, and likely more.
That’s just the quick number that Marks can estimate off the top of her head and from the paperwork she’s assembled over the lifetime of her beloved project of which the choir was a part, the Save the Children program she founded in 1989 and shut down with regret in 2014.
It had been difficult choice for Marks, but at age 65 just after a health scare she held one last big event, then stepped down due to a variety of health-related issues. But over the years she’s heard a gentle complaint again and again: Some of the young people who had come through the program were upset because they didn’t know about it in enough time to participate or attend it.
So in 2019, despite many challenges she faced associated with damage that occurred in 2018’s Hurricane Michael, Marks gathered her energy to organize one more reunion for the Save the Children program and its choir. Although it will happen just slightly past the 30th year of the founding, Marks is marking it the 30th anniversary. The reunion will be at Pope Chapel AME Church on Sunday, Feb. 9.
Phillip Sylvester, the son of Danny Sylvester, will be her guest speaker. Now a manager for a railroad in Dothan, Ala., he was a long-time program participant in his youth. “I remember being there every Saturday, through ages 5 to 14 or so,” Sylvester said. “It taught you self-discipline, to stick with something. It had religion at its base and that was a good thing. It was good to grow up with the solid belief that there’s a higher power. It was something that helped shape me into a stable adult.”
Sylvester said Marks was an inspiring presence. “She was very high-energy and she believed in everybody,” he explained. “A lot of us couldn’t really sing, I couldn’t, but she wanted us to step up and take part. Public speaking was developed in me through this, too. Having to stand up and recite, it developed and refined skills that I’ve needed and appreciated in my adult life. I believe there’s a direct correlation with self-esteem, the religious base from which the program operated, and the things that it focused on in the support of young people.”
As Marks explained about the program for a story in 2016, the goal has always centered on helping young people develop their talents, understand how their lives can touch others, and grow into responsible adults who contribute something special to society.
Marks is hoping to see all of the choir and Save the Children participants. Rehearsals for the choir are set for 11 a.m. on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 with guest speaker Phillip Sylvester and worship leader Walter Caldwell. Services begin with Bible discovery hour at 9:30 a.m. morning worship at 11 a.m. and the “Pack a Pew” program at 3 p.m. For more information, call Marks at 693-9630 or 482-5208, or Marvin Couch at 209-2314.
Save the Children/Boys to Men Choir alumni list:
Bubba Baker, Devin Baker, Deontre Baker, Zechariah “Zack” Bailey, Cameron Barnes, Dairus Barnes, Dejuan Barnes, Desmund Barnes, Torri Barnes, Bradley Battles, Dominique Bell, M.J. Bell, Brandon Boykin, Quan Boykin, Darrell Bradwell, Jesie Bradwell, Stephen Brook, Bryson Bryant, Alan Clayton, Terry Clayton, C.B. Collins, Carlton Cotton, Joshua Cotton, Quatre Couch, Kenton Curry, Lamarion Curry, Nick Curry, Jeffery Davis, Brandon Deron, Anatavious “Man” Donaldn, Eric Durant, Travis Durant, O’Mar Everet, Jaquez Gainer, Cedric Gaines, Anwar Gilbert (now deceased), English Gilbert, LaDray Gilbert, Lonnie Gilbert, Nemiah Gilbert, Adrian Gibson, Brandone Gibson, Jeremy Godwin, Kyan Gibson, Malik Gore, Kenneth Groome, Derrick Harvey, Demetrius Heatrice, Eric Hill, Aundrea Holden, Anthony Holden, Dante Holden, Gilyen Holmes, Jaden Holmes, Eric Huguley, Marrell Hunter, Darryl Jacobs, A.J. Johnson, Al Johnson Jr., Brandon Johnson, Chancellor Johnson, Deron Johnson, Kyree Johnson, Quintuin Johnson, Doug Jones Jr., Virgil Johnson, Delmar Jones, Marquis Kelly, Kandon Kennedy Jr., Katavious Knox (now deceased), Charles LaFontaine, Christopher Laster, Corex Littles, Chancellor Lockett, Louis Martinez, Daniel Marks III, Luis Martinez, Justin McCallister, Will McCloud, Isaiah McFarland, William McFarland, Keegan McKay, Christopher Merritt, Quatere Mitchell, Mason Mobley, Brian Myrick, C.J. Myrick, Kevin Myrick, Ron Myrick, James Paramore, Devante Patterson (now deceased), KaShawn Perry, Rodell Pate, DeQuorian Pittman, Darien Pollock, Terence Pollock, Mershon Pope, Michael Reed, Ordall Riley, James Rhynes, Nick Roulhac, O.J. Roulac, Scotty Roulhac, Genard Russ, Jesmond Russ, Chris Smith, Tevin Speights, Carlos Staley, Chandler Staley, Christian Staley, Calvin Stringer, Robert Stromas, Greg Sutton (now deceased), Keith Sutton, Marcus Sutton, Danny Sylvester Jr., Phillip Sylvester, Willie Thomas, Darin Townsend, Justin Warren, Jarrian Wesley, Lamar Wilson, Antwon Williams, Gerald Williams, Jermel Williams, Larry Williams, Scotty Williams, Nedrick Wingfield, Ontario Wright, Darryl Wynn, Randel Wynn, Gerran Yance, Joseph Young Jr. (now deceased), and Stephen Young.
Several people were involved in helping with the program through the years. Three of those are now deceased: musician David Huner, and coordinators Carolyn Johnson and Yvonne Williams.