"I'll be rappin' myself," said DeShazier, senior pastor of University Church UCC in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where, on March 24, "Imagine" will stir up NYE enthusiasm for youth and adults alike. The quadrennial NYE is set for July 10-13 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
"It will be almost like a talent show or open mic, but all of it will be centered on gospel and justice," said DeShazier, who encourages members and friends of the Chicago Metropolitan Association of the UCC's Illinois Conference to bring their own talent - and enjoy that of others.
DeShazier said planning for "Imagine" is growing larger in scope as the Conference boosts its youth initiative.
"A lot of these people didn't know each other," said DeShazier. "They would have these youth events, but they weren't doing them together. It's exciting for me to have some of these youth meet one another and really get excited about doing ministry. It's something I know NYE is passionate about doing and it helps on the local level."
DeShazier holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from Atlanta's Morehouse College, where his father, Robert Franklin, is president. In 2010, DeShazier received his M.Div. degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
His ministry - and that of "J.Kwest," his rap name - continues to explore the relationship between music and faith. The Chicago native uses his unique rhythm to tell stories of deep meaning, inside the church and out. The vision for J.Kwest and his "PureMusic" brand is to strengthen and stretch beyond notions of faith.
J.Kwest is a 2007 Holy Hip Hop Award-winner and has been celebrated as "Living Black History" by Urban Ministries International. He has appeared at numerous major gospel music festivals and his song "So Blessed" was featured on the Grammy-nominated compilation "Holy Hip Hop: Taking the Gospel to the Streets."
His credits also include being featured on local television and on Maya Angelou's XM radio station; in Rolling Out and Blackgurl publications; at the Children's Defense Fund; and at the Taste of Chicago Festival. In addition, J.Kwest provides a national voice for youth rights.
"I believe these stories are universally significant," said DeShazier of his "PureMusic" brand. "We only spend a couple of hours in church, and I want to make a soundtrack for the rest of life."
Learn more about the "Imagine" event in Chicago.
Learn more about J.Kwest.