Under another set of circumstances, the late Reat Griffin Underwood would now be 15 years old.
His mother, Mindy Corporon, said she could easily see her son spiritedly engaging the songwriting contest organized to honor him and the other two victims of the April 13 shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom. Reat and his grandfather, William Corporon, died at the JCC, and Terri LaManno was killed at Village Shalom.
With the “Faith, Love & Song” songwriting contest’s submission deadline less than two weeks away, Corporon said her son would excel in a competition like this.
“He would write about love and being kind to others,” she said.
The songwriting contest is part of a seven-day tribute marking the shootings’ first anniversary and is the result of a partnership of two nonprofits created in response to the shootings — Corporon’s foundation, Faith Always Wins, and RRACE (Racial and Religious Acceptance and Cultural Equality), which was founded by Ekkerhard and Sieglinde Othmer.
The contest was born out of the groups’ connections to the annual KC Superstar singing contest, which Reat was about to audition for when he was shot April 13.
Ekkerhard Othmer, a physician, psychologist and German immigrant, had been a perennial donor to the Jewish Community Center singing contest fundraiser, but when event fundraiser Herb Buchbinder called last summer to secure a donation for the 2015 contest, Othmer responded that the shootings had prompted him to do something bigger.
“(Buchbinder) asked for $5,000, and I told him ‘We want to use the money for scholarships to counteract racial thinking and narrow mindedness,’” Othmer said, a conversation that became seminal to the founding of RRACE.
Buchbinder not only agreed, but decided to contribute to what would become RRACE’s $20,000 initial scholarship funding.
Corporon said she didn’t immediately know what direction to go with a memorial event to mark the shootings’ first anniversary.
Some suggested a footrace as a fundraiser.
“I immediately thought ‘no’ because Reat hated to run. He’d probably make it rain the whole day,” Corporon said.
Corporon said the songwriting contest ultimately made the most sense because of who Reat was — a gifted singer and performer — and where he was April 13: getting ready for his 1:30 audition for KC Superstar.
The Othmers organized RRACE after the shootings with a mission to bridge cultural differences, and they supported the “Faith, Love & Song” with a donation for $8,500 worth of scholarships for the top three winners.
The deadline for entries is Feb. 28. It is limited to contestants ages 14 to 21.
Tammy Ruder, the KC Superstar producer whom Corporon hired to oversee the contest, is pleased to see pronounced themes of peace and community coming through the songs submitted so far.
“I was scrolling through a few of the songs as we were talking and see where (the entrants) are coming from,” she said. “It’s kind of like that ‘we are the world’ is coming back, something that’s speaking to people across dividing lines.”
Take “The Judge Game,” a song that honors the many ways people understand their relationship with a higher power, whatever one might call it: God, nature or Jehovah.
Then there’s “Keep Shining,” a song narrating the all-too-common moment of defeated expectations.
The songwriter writes, “You should never hide / All that you've got, just hold your head up high.”
In March, 10 finalists will be selected. Contestants will be asked to provide a video of their original song, which will appear on YouTube for public viewing. From March 29 to April 4, public input will be taken by “likes” on the video, which will supplement the judges’ own scoring.
The first-place entrant will be awarded a $5,000 scholarship; the second-place entrant will get $2,500 and third-place songwriter will receive a $1,000 scholarship.
The top three songs will be performed at a celebration of the victims’ lives on April 13.
Corporon is leading the effort to fund the celebration of life event, which kicks off with “Seven Days of Kindness,” asking the community to focus each day on one character quality, such as love and reconnecting with family.
A community walk will start at 6 p.m. April 13 at the Jewish Community Center and end at the United Methodist Church of Resurrection in Leawood, where the victims’ celebration of life will begin at 8 p.m.
The songs that win the contest will be performed by either the singers or an band hired for the event.
“We need to fight hate, and music is one of the greatest bridges,” Ruder said.
Corporon can imagine what kind of song her son, ever the hugger, would write for the contest.
“Reat wouldn’t just smile at you. He would give you a hug,” his mother said. “So, he would talk about the human touch and how important that is.”
A complete list of the contest’s rules and contact information can be found at faithalwayswins.org