My older daughter is a member of the Benjamin E. Mays High School Wind Symphony and my duties as a band parent include being a frequent audience member at their performances. I gain a new appreciation of the hard work that goes into teaching and learning during these experiences, as my daughter and her peers are being molded into musicians who respect their craft.
In January, I was in the audience during one of their rehearsals when I saw man, nattily dressed in all black, enter the room. I immediately mistook him for a music critic. The band has won many awards and received numerous superior ratings in music competitions, so I assumed he was there to review their performance.
At the time, the students were in a master class of sorts with professional euphoniumist Demondrae Thurman.
I noticed that the band director, William Oliver, saw the same man walk in and stopped practice to introduce him. The “music critic” turned out to be a local philanthropist, Mark Carroll, who stopped by to bring a donation to the band program, which included new mouthpieces and other needed musical equipment.
I was touched at how the students responded. Understanding the value of not only the equipment, but the experience, some of them began to cry. Others raced toward Mr. Carroll to hug him and take selfies with him. All the students thanked him and gave a round of applause.
A former software salesman, Carroll lost his job three years ago and said he asked God how he could help people.
Carroll is the founder of Mark Carroll & Friends, a 501c3 nonprofit, which raises money to meet the needs of local schools under Four Pillars: Teachers Fund, STEM Programs, Scholarship Programs and his annual Toy Drive.
According to the website, “We create events and opportunities to raise money for organizations that we feel are doing exceptional, hands-on work that need more support.”
His philanthropic endeavors had humble beginnings, growing from a decision to host a toy collection drive during a Christmas party he hosted in 2003. That event grew every year. The donation to the Mays band program came out of his desire to help support the needs of students in Atlanta Public Schools.
In pursing his vision, he no longer receives a corporate paycheck.
“Some days I wonder if this is what I really should be doing,” Carroll said. “But I was flabbergasted by the outpouring of love from the students and the gratitude of the children helps me know this is my calling.”
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