Elaine Richardson is an accomplished singer, songwriter and English professor at Ohio State University.
The 51-year-old will combine her passions for music, academics and community outreach when she sings as the headlining performer Saturday, July 23, at the African-American Heritage Festival at Penn State Altoona's campus.
Harriet Gaston, a chairwoman for the African-American Heritage Project, said that when Richardson reached out about performing, she knew that she would be a good fit for the festival.
Elaine Richardson of Ohio will perform as?'Dr.?E' at 5 p.m. Saturday during the African-American Heritage Festival at Penn State?Altoona.
Mirror file photo
African drum ensemble IBEJI of Pittsburgh perform at the African-American?Heritage Festival last year.
"The goal is to promote the history and culture of the African-American community," Gaston said. She added that the festival is open to everyone, not just African-Americans.
The African-American Heritage Festival started in 1992. Gaston said that about 20 percent of Blair County is African-American and that the festival is an entertaining learning experience.
The event will feature arts, crafts, food and vendors that are influenced by African-American culture. The Smith Building will provide information on the history of African-Americans in central Pennsylvania.
If you go
What: African-American Heritage Festival
When:?Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Penn State Altoona campus
Admission: Suggested $1 donation per car
Special event:?"Dr. E" performance at 5 p.m.
Richardson, who found out about the festival while teaching at Penn State, said that she thought it was important that people learn about the African-American community, which is why she wanted to sing at the event.
But there was a point in Richardson's life when she didn't think she'd earn her Ph.D. or have the confidence to sing on stage.
Now Richardson commonly goes by her stage name, Dr. E., but years ago, growing up in a poor area of Cleveland, Richardson was a teenage prostitute, a drug user and a college dropout. No one knew who she was, and she even thought that this would be her permanent life.
"I think I'm the last person that people would think would earn a Ph.D," Richardson said.
"I've had people mentor me and invest in me, and it paid off, so that's why I'm a big advocate of not giving up on people, not counting people out."
Richardson found music at an early age, singing in church choirs and talent shows around Cleveland. But her confidence and enthusiasm was quickly swept away once she was raped at the age of 13, and she found solace in the wrong group of people.
"I just got involved with a lot of people who were involved with negative activities, and I felt comfortable in that crowd because I didn't have any self-esteem," Richardson said.
Even though she spent most of her time with "people in the underground lifestyle," including a relationship with a criminal, Richardson said that her mother never gave up on her.
"My mother struggled to keep me on the path toward education or toward a respectable life," she said. "It was a struggle for me to graduate high school."
But she did.
She enrolled at Cleveland State University, however Richardson said she was unprepared, taking developmental courses just to keep up.
She fell in with the wrong crowd of people and lagged behind on coursework. She flunked out of college, and the streets summoned her.
"I went full-fledged into the underground life," Richardson said.
She worked on the streets of Cleveland and sometimes New York.
She had her first child, Evelyn, in 1984 to a boyfriend. She had her second child, Ebony, in 1987, while working as a prostitute.
The birth of her second child was the turning point for her, because she thought that she had killed her baby.
"I was over nine months pregnant then, and I was on drugs, out there, and finally I went to one of my friend's house and said 'I think that my baby is dead," Richardson said.
She went to the hospital, where she was threatened with jail. Richardson said that she was "glad" about the possibility of going to jail because she needed to be forced into turning her life around.
Her daughter was born healthy, and Richardson started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and participating in a program called the Second Chance Project. The Project was run by Andrew Edwards, a professor at Cleveland State, who was trying to help sexually exploited women.
"I just surrendered," she said. "I just didn't know what to do with my life, and I needed help. People said that I could still change in my life, and so I listened to them."
Richardson moved back in with her mother in Cleveland, and started going to school. She earned her master's degree in English from Cleveland State in 1993, then received her doctorate from Michigan State.
She taught at the University of Minnesota before teaching English and linguistics at Penn State for nine years until 2007.
"I loved living in State College," Richardson said. "My children were small and it was a good environment for me as a single parent with my children."
Richardson had a third daughter, Kaila, in 1991. Both Ebony and Kaila Richardson attended Penn State before going to Ohio State once Elaine Richardson moved back to teach there.
While teaching, Richardson continues her musical composition, which she started to do while studying at Michigan State.
"After going to therapy and talking about all of my traumatic experiences, I was able to get my voice back," Richardson said.
Richardson's 2010 album, "Elevated," a collaboration with Larry D. Marcus, a Billboard Award-winning songwriter, relates to her own experiences and those around her.
She said that even though her music is the product of African-American-influenced styles, anyone can relate to it, which she thinks is an important message that the festival promotes.
"Even though my music comes from African- American culture, it reaches across cultures, races, class and gender," Richardson said.