As a kid, Anthony Hamilton pinballed through the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system: Berryhill, Sharon and Derita elementaries; J.T. Williams, Ranson, Wilson and Carmel middles; South Mecklenburg and Harding for high school.
As a Grammy Award-winning soul singer, he does a different type of bouncing around: Over a weeklong period this month, he attended the Grammys in L.A., did two shows in Washington, D.C., performed with fellow Grammy winner Chrisette Michele in New Jersey, then helped pal Michael Jordan celebrate his 50th birthday at NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston.
But Hamilton – who also moved from family to family to family – hasn’t forgotten the pain of his nomadic upbringing. So he’s determined to alleviate that which is causing others in Charlotte to struggle.
For the second year, Hamilton has chosen CIAA basketball tournament week to stage “Anthony Hamilton’s Big Payback,” a community-service effort to raise money and awareness for problems including homelessness, hunger and education.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, he’ll visit and present $15,000 donations to the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, the Salvation Army Center of Hope and A Child’s Place. When he visits Second Harvest Food Bank on Tuesday, he’ll bring along a 53-foot tractor-trailer loaded with food donated by ConAgra.
“Around CIAA, being a part of something bigger than just partying feels good,” says Hamilton, 42, who currently resides in Waxhaw. “I know what it feels like to have that void, so I want to diminish that as much as I can. And I just like being a nice guy. A l ot of people don’t run into a lot of nice people throughout the day.”
His birth mother was one of those people. When Hamilton was a boy, she got into a series of unhealthy relationships that led to his estrangement from her. Hamilton sought refuge in his aunt’s home, then with another family. But those situations weren’t providing the stability he needed to get his head right.
A moment of rage, he says, gave way to a moment of clarity.
“I found myself with a gun, angry at one of her boyfriends, and I was only 14 years old,” Hamilton says. “I had so much anger … I wanted it to stop. I knew I had to be somewhere else, so I just prayed.”
His answer came after he started hanging out with Reece Way, a football teammate at Carmel. As they bonded, Way caught on to what was happening with Hamilton and approached his parents about letting him stay with them; they agreed to help. The fit was so perfect that within a year, they started the process of legally adopting him.
“The hardest part was I felt like I was abandoning my mom and my sister,” Hamilton says. “They came to the court hearing, so I had to tell them I wanted to go with this other family and not stay. But I knew it was gonna be the best for me. If not I would have been in trouble.”
The stable, loving environment his adoptive parents provided paved the way for the life he now leads. And although they have both died in the last decade, in other ways his journey could not have had a happier outcome.
Hamilton is the father of six boys, including three with his wife, Tarsha, (2-year-old twins Aaron and Nolan, and 8-month-old Princeton).
His birth parents, long separated, now get along; he considers his father a confidant and his sister comes over every day to help with his young children. “Sometimes,” Hamilton says, “you go through a storm and you come out polished.”
Musically, meanwhile, he’s on fire. He was up for two awards at this month’s Grammys, including best R&B song (“Pray for Me”) and best R&B album (“Back to Love”). They were his 11th and 12th nominations in the past decade.
He teamed with Elayna Boynton to record “Freedom” for the soundtrack of “Django Unchained.” In March, Hamilton will start work on a Christmas CD, then later this year, he’ll begin putting together his next regular studio album.
There are also plans to shoot a live DVD in South Africa, where he says fans treat him “a little like Justin Bieber … I get police escorts and everything.”
It’s a classic rags-to-riches story, except he hasn’t forgotten what the rags feel like (he did live in New York for a more than decade, but returned to the area about eight years ago and plans to have a house here “forever”). His “Big Payback” during CIAA week is evidence.
“When somebody of Anthony’s stature steps up and says, ‘Hey, it’s important to feed hungry children, it’s important to give back to the community,’ I think it really matters to people,” says Kay Carter, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank. “So we feel really lucky that he cares about the community and cares about our mission of ending child hunger.”
Adds Mayor Anthony Foxx, who has proclaimed Wednesday as “Anthony Hamilton Day”: “(He’s) an award-winning singer, songwriter, and producer – but above all, he is a Charlottean. … I salute Anthony for his musical achievements and thank him for his commitment to making our community a better place.”
Last year, Hamilton mainly donated time, with a food drive for Second Harvest being the biggest piece of the efforts.
This year, there’s more at stake, thanks to a little six degrees of Michael Jordan: Hamilton is a Jordan Brand endorser; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is a Jordan Brand athlete.
Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation, which helps kids say no to drugs and alcohol, asked Hamilton to perform at a charity event awhile back.
Hamilton declined a fee, but Turn 2 countered by offering to donate $45,000 in his name to charities of his choosing.
So here he is, giving others a shot – like the one he got 27 years ago – at turning things around before it’s too late.
“You never know when somebody’s on their last fight,” Hamilton says, “and you just want to encourage them to keep going instead of doing anything that would hinder their life, or mess up anything. And I’m able. I’ve been blessed, man. So why not? Why not be a blessing to somebody else? Can’t take it all with me. Can’t eat it all.”
From The Charlotte Observer, Feb. 25, 2013