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A vibrant and talented composer who splits his time between Los Angeles and Fort Meade is rolling out the red carpet to support underserved children and teens in Polk County through an event that welcomes the people he grew up with as well as some friends he has made along the way, like Denzel and Pauletta Washington, and Grammy-nominated artist Mykal Kilgore.

On Saturday, Nov. 19 Jaret Landon and his non-profit, Dorothy Jean’s Dream Initiative, are hosting the Stars Under the Stars gala at Streamsong Resort to raise money to provide scholarships tstudents who are ready to pursue their dreams, but simply need people in their corner like Landon has been fortunate enough to have.

The event will include a red carpet hour, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, live music and more. It will be a celebration of local community leaders focused on helping the next generation thrive. It also serves as a time to honor the impacts being made through art and education by Denzel and Pauletta Washington, Grammy-award winning artist Donald Lawrence, and Marcus Gardley, screenwriter for the upcoming movie, “The Color Purple.”

Jaret Landon’s late mother Dorothy Jean Williams, alongside Pauletta Washington, outside of Southwest Arts Center in Atlanta.

Landon, along with a silent donor, has worked diligently to make this event affordable and accessible to everyone, so people from all walks of life can intermingle with known names and Hollywood “royalty”, just like Landon hoped. Tickets for the event can be purchased here

Landon — who amongst his many accomplishments has written and composed music for some of the most renowned theaters in the world, served as assistant orchestrator for American Idol for three seasons and collaborated with global recording sensations like Tyler the Creator — knows what it’s like to be the kid from the small town dreaming dreams that might feel out of reach. 

Rewind about 20 years and Landon’s mother, Dorothy Jean Williams, was waking him up at 4 a.m. to hop on a bus to get to Harrison School for the Arts so he could receive the education that would help propel him to great heights professionally and personally. Jaret went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in piano performance at Florida State University and master’s degree in music education at VanderCook College of Music to follow what he says is God’s call on his life “to use music as a connector to serve people.” 

Several years into Landon’s professional ascent, his mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Doctors gave her 18 months to live, but Landon said God’s provision for his mom and her incredible will and spirit allowed her to live for five more years, in which she continued to be Jaret’s No. 1 fan, no matter her health.

Dorothy Jean once flew to Chicago to see a show that he was directing — which was the show he first met Pauletta Washington through — and it was not until two months later that Jaret learned his mom had been coughing up blood most of the weekend. It was that kind of love and determination that has rubbed off not only on Jaret, but those he influences today.

Jaret and his late mother Dorothy Jean Williams.

“When I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, the oncologist said to her, ‘Ms. Williams, you absolutely cannot drive with Jaret from Chicago to Los Angeles because your immune system can’t fight off any type of cold or anything that could possibly happen.’ And she nodded her head that she understood, and two weeks later she was on a plane to Chicago,” he recalls. “It is one of the most meaningful moments of my life because that was the last road trip my mom and I took together. As we drove through the Colorado Mountains singing, ‘How Great Thou Art’ and ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’, I recorded it with my phone. And that is who she was. She was a single parent, and she made sure that I had access to the arts, to cultural opportunities. She was a working mother, but also made sure that her son was a priority.”

In 2018 Landon and his business partner officially launched Dorothy Jean’s Dream Initiative before the pandemic stalled some of their initial plans. But 2022 has proved to be a boon for the non-profit. Earlier this year, an estimated 2,000 people attended the initiative’s Fort Meade Soul Music Festival and the organization has been meeting people’s felt needs, as well as encouraging them to find and use their God-given talents.

“…before we can really talk about the arts and culture opportunities, if people are hungry, they can’t hear you.”

“Twice a month we buy vegetables, fruits, and anything else that we can offer to the community and it’s all for free. It is our way of showing the community that we care,” Landon says. “Because before we can really talk about the arts and culture opportunities, if people are hungry, they can’t hear you. Let’s let them know that we care, and while we have them, let them know about the power of arts and what it can do in their lives as it’s done the same in ours.”

An estimated 17 percent of Fort Meade residents live in poverty according to the US Census Bureau. Landon says his experience at Harrison School for the Arts was a “great equalizer” even though he started his official music education later than many of his colleagues, and he is motivated to help connect others to opportunities that will change their lives.

“I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for the help and the support of other individuals who invested in me…who saw my potential,” he says. “We are committed to be here in Polk County…and will be here serving until our time on Earth expires.”

For more information on Dorothy Jean’s Dream Initiative, click here

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