Local goes from politics to prison to producer of spiritual show

  • Friday, April 11, 2014

Donald Gilliard

The opportunity to earn a living doing what we love while giving back is a rare event afforded only a few. However, Donald Gilliard, a native of Georgetown, SC is combining his love for the stage and fulfilling his legacy of service to the community, as founder of Sweet Gilliard Production Company.

Gilliard’s path to business owner, director and motivational speaker is anything but typical. However, it is a testament to the power of determination, faith, and forgiveness. Gilliard explains, “I perfected God’s Trombones while incarcerated serving 20 years of what was intended to be a life sentence.”

Gilliard faced many skeptics and endured ridicule from his peers when “I would speak of my dream to take God’s Trombones to the community,” Gilliard recalls. “

But God had another plan for me and I have since directed more than 20 performances of God’s Trombones nationwide.”

A successful political consultant, Gilliard anticipated walking out of prison directly into employment. However, he experienced what many in his situation encounter, very few employers willing to take a chance and offer an opportunity. Unfortunately, Gilliard’s experience is the norm. According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, “A felony conviction greatly lowers ex-offenders’ prospects in the labor market”. CEPR reported in 2008, an estimated cost to the US economy of $57 to $65 billion in lost output by not employing these individuals.

Receiving a prodigal sons reception, the faith-based community welcomed Gilliard and it has proven a profitable union. Working with local churches, and other charitable organizations, Sweet Gilliard Productions brings one of America’s most powerful literary works, God’s Trombones, to the stage.

Written in 1927 by James Weldon Johnson, this literary masterpiece acts out seven scripture lessons with song, dance and sermon. “There are very few productions that will do to an audience what God’s Trombones does.” Gilliard remembers his first introduction to James Weldon Johnson as a high school student in Georgetown, SC and later as a Theater major at SC State in Orangeburg, SC. “I was really transfixed by Johnson’s beautiful words. I understood what James Weldon Johnson was doing. I grew up listening to powerful ministers, like my uncle the legendary Rev. Frank Vereen, from the Georgetown and Pee Dee areas of SC.”

This labor of love for Gilliard has also been a blessing for the community. Gilliard states, “one of our first productions of God’s Trombones was performed as a church benefit to assist three families, each of whom tragically lost a loved one while traveling to revival with their pastor.” It was Gilliard’s desire to help the very community that gave life to his dreams that led to Sweet Gilliard Productions. His manner of conducting business is a direct result of the lessons learned from his grandmother, Ernestine ‘Sweet’ Gilliard, affectionately known as Miss Sweet. Gilliard describes the woman who raised him from a baby as “a strong Christian woman who loved our family and taught us to try to always do good by our fellow man.” Sweet Gilliard Productions honors the life and spirit of, as Gilliard claims, “one of the most important persons in my life, the other being my mother, Barbara Faison.”

If you are looking to attend the next performance of “God’s Trombones” or interested in your organization hosting a performance visit www.sweetgilliardproduction.com

Gilliard recently produced “God’s Trombones” in Marion, S.C. and upcoming shows include Columbia, S.C., Simpsonville, S.C., Florence and Atlanta, Ga.

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