When Terry Crews, host of America’s Got Talent, recently hit the button to give a San Diego choir a rare golden buzzer pass to the live shows later this summer, Jehlad Hickson ’17 was right there on stage amid the jubilation.

Joining with his fellow singers in the Voices of our City community choir, Hickson celebrated not just an inspirational and winning performance on national television, but one that highlighted the extent of homelessness in major cities—something he experienced in his childhood and early teens.

Coast to Coast

A criminology and psychology double major turned neo soul artist, Hickson moved to San Diego in 2018 and immediately loved the beauty of the city and its buzzing music scene. Seeing so many people sleeping rough in the streets of a picturesque city disturbed him.

But when he found the Voices of our City choir, a 225-member group of singers all with experience of being unsheltered and homeless, he knew where he belonged.

“The choir is like a non-denominational church or community with people from all walks of life and experiences. There is also talent and a great spirit of collaboration which I find encouraging,” says Hickson who plays guitar, electric bass, piano, bongos, and drums. He also sings, writes his own songs and is learning to play the saxophone.

Hickson explains that, as a part of a workshop, the choir wrote the song, Listen to the Sounds of the Sidewalk, that moved the 3,000 audience members in LA’s famed Apollo Theater to tears.

A little older now, I’m more focused in life, especially about my career as a full-time musician. Last year, I played over 100 shows but just work alone is not fulfilling enough. The choir allows me to volunteer in a grassroots setting, working directly with the unsheltered in this amazing community, raising voices, giving back and changing the perception of homelessness.

Fond Memories 

In addition to studying criminology and psychology at Stonehill, Hickson enjoyed fun activities like club rugby and the frisbee team and he recalls many lively conversations with friends and classmates who were political science majors. In 2016-17, he served as Diversity Chair on the Executive Board of the Student Government Association.

Of all his classes, his favorite was Terrorism with Associate Professor of Criminology Anamika Ghoshal-Twyman who was also his advisor. “Professor Twyman Ghoshal has a way of relating to each one of her students. She helped us to see every side of a conversation and challenged each of us to look at a different views. Incredibly intellectual, she is pragmatic in her approach to students,” says Hickson.

College wasn’t all smooth sailing and Hickson struggled at times. Looking back, however, he says, “I always tried to stay positive and bounce back.”

Jehlad Hickson '17 at the 2016 Student Leadership Dinner.

Hickson, left with gray sleeves, celebrating with his fellow singers.

Bright Future

Since graduating, Hickson hasn’t just concentrated on music. He is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst and holds an MBA with a concentration in digital entrepreneurship from Strayer University. And he has other big goals in mind.

“I want to have my own record company and make music a full-time endeavor, although that is a challenge now with so many concerts cancelled because of the pandemic. I also want my own counseling practice and a nonprofit to help people of color gain access and resources to social services and tools that they might not have in their own neighborhood,” he notes.

Right now, however, he is eager about getting back on the road for live gigs with the Moonshine Soul Band once the pandemic-related restrictions surrounding concerts are lifted. And on top of that, he is looking forward to preparing for the live performance phase of America’s Got Talent.

“All of us at Voices of our City are already practicing harder than ever to be our best for the next round. As singers we want to excel and as people who know or have known homelessness, we are sharing our humanity to change how our world sees us,” he says.

“Everyone deserves dignity and respect but, as I know from experience, you can lose that when homeless, which is why the choir means so much to me. In song, we show our strength and ability. When America’s Got Talent returns, believe me, we will put on great show. Watch us,” adds Hickson.