Richard A. White, a classical tuba player, spent some of his earliest years living on the street in Baltimore, he told a crowd gathered Friday at the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County.
As a child younger than 4, he would eat out of trash cans and store food under his tongue for later because his access to meals was unpredictable, he said.
His life as a homeless child ended when he was found in a doorway during a snowstorm. After that, his mother’s foster parents took legal custody of him.
“Would I change any of this? The answer is ‘no,’” he said.
His experiences led to chances for him to better his life through good choices, White said.
White was invited to speak at the Building Great Futures Kickoff, an event aimed at raising operational funding for the Boys & Girls Club. The club provides affordable after-school and summer programming and promotes healthy lifestyles and hobbies.
He encouraged the crowd to cultivate and nurture children and help students achieve what may seem impossible to them.
“The bottom line is when you have more than you need, build a bigger table instead of a bigger fence,” he said.
As a sophomore at the Baltimore School for the Arts, White started working hard at learning the tuba because he was told it could lead to scholarship opportunities. He also loves it because it is the “underdog of instruments,” he said.
He went on to become the first African American to receive a doctorate of music in tuba performance. After earning his doctorate in Indiana, he moved to Albuquerque to join the New Mexico Symphony for a year in 2004. He stayed with the symphony until it went bankrupt in 2011. After the bankruptcy, the University of New Mexico offered him a teaching position, but the school didn’t have funding for it.
He offered to find the money to support his position. He taught the football team to breathe properly – something he learned through his musical training – and secured the funding. He is now an associate professor of tuba and euphonium, and associate director of the Spirit Marching Band at the university. He has also performed with numerous symphonies and musical groups.
“Great people aren’t born great, they grow great,” he said.
Friday’s event also highlighted the Boys & Girls Club’s recent growth. Last year, the nonprofit launched two new satellite locations, one at the Pine River Library and one at Big Picture High School in Durango, said Vaughn Morris, the club’s president and CEO. Both locations serve between 25 and 40 students after school.
The club at the Pine River Library was started because middle school students were hanging out there anyway, he said. The club has added structure to that setting, and students have learned computer coding, cooking and budgeting skills, Morris said.