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Sheila Raye Charles, daughter of music icon Ray Charles, to perform in Statesboro
Shares story of triumph, by faith, over addiction
Sheila Raye Charles 1
Sheila Raye Charles

Sheila Raye Charles, daughter of the musical giant and legendary singer and composer Ray Charles, will perform live Saturday at Eastern Heights Baptist Church.

The concert is free and sponsored by Celebrate Recovery; however, space is limited and reservations are suggested for the event.

Celebrate Recovery began in the early '90s in a church in California as a program to help those struggling with hurts, habits and hang-ups by showing participants the loving power of Jesus Christ through a recovery process, based on the eight biblical, beatitude principles and Twelve Steps.

Now in 20,000 churches worldwide, Celebrate Recovery meets at Eastern Heights Baptist Church at 6:30 p.m. Mondays to aid those struggling with any type of problem or addiction.

Sheila Raye Charles knew a host of problems and addictions. But who she didn't know until she was 12 years old was her famous father.

"My mother and father were together until I was 2½ years old," she said. "I didn't see my father again until I was 12."

She reconnected with her father after moving from Ohio, where she lived with her mother, to California to attend school at Maurice Allard's Music Academy in Los Angeles, earning her the distinction of being the youngest student ever accepted there.

"As a small child, you have expectations," Charles said of getting to know her father. "I thought we'd hold hands, go to Disney, walk on the beach. I thought he'd talk to me about my aspirations."

She said she knew by an early age that she wanted to pursue a singing career like her father.

"Talk about deflation of a balloon," she said.
Instead, she said, Ray Charles discouraged her from that career and made little effort to spend time with her.

"My father did the best he could with what he knew," she said. "He'd lost both his parents at a young age, and lived in an institution for the blind. He had no reality of how to be a parent. It took me years to realize that. My father was married to music and women. Children weren't a part of that life."

Charles does, however, cherish the few moments she spent with her father during that time.

"When you were with him, he gave you the sense that you were very important to him," she said.

When Charles became homesick, she ran away from her uncle in California who was managing her and back to Ohio. Already using street drugs like marijuana and acid, she eventually ran away to North Carolina and was involved in a tragic car accident.

When a preacher visited the hospital, Charles gave her life to Christ, but says she didn't live a life demonstrating that decision.

"After I had my second daughter, I'd never heard of postpartum depression," she said. "I had flashbacks of my childhood of molestation and child abuse. That's when I found crack cocaine, to relieve the hurt and pain and abandonment."

By this time, her father was not speaking to her and her mother had died of cancer.

"Crack is designed to destroy all that is good in your life," Charles said.

That drug and other circumstances, including some of the people she chose to spend time with, resulted in Sheila Raye's first stint in federal prison. But she couldn't stay sober when she was released and was incarcerated twice more in federal prison.

"The very last time I went before the judge," she recalled, "he said, ‘I like you. You're such a likeable person.' He basically sentenced me to spend the remainder of my probation in prison to get my life in order.

"But that gave me two years to build a relationship with God," Charles continued. "I had a baby in custody and that child was taken from me. By now, all five of my children were in foster care. It was a slap in the face to deal with. My life was in the pit of hell."

She described the deep pain she felt during this time.

"Satan said to me, ‘You're never gonna change,'" Charles said. "I fell off the bed and I cried out to God. And he spoke back to me; God answered my call in prison. He said, ‘Sheila, if you give me your life, the life I give you back will be more than you can imagine. I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' I didn't even know he was speaking the Word to me, quoting to me from Jeremiah 29:11. He said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). You are made in my image.'"

That, she said, was her turning point.
"He reached down into the pit of hell for me," Charles said. "It blows my mind how much He loves me. I can't wait to spend the rest of my life sharing His grace and mercy."

Though the blinders she hid behind for so many years were now off, everything was not easy. She left prison with only $75 to start over.

"Life hit me. Incarcerated, housing and food and all needs were met," she said. "I was in church and choir and gospel plays while there."

Charles tried very briefly to return to the streets and her former life, but quickly knew she couldn't. With the support of a group she'd encountered while in prison, she slowly recovered her life.

She found work, reunited with family, met with her children and began speaking and singing.

"The more I shared, the more I realized what God has done for me," Charles said. "I am a walking, breathing miracle."

With her One Way Up Ministry, Charles has traveled all over the world, giving concerts and sharing her testimony. Joined now by her husband, Michael (Tony) Steptoe, Charles speaks to church and recovery groups, service organizations and prison inmates.

"Keep pressing on; that's my message now," she said.

To reserve a ticket to hear Sheila Raye Charles in person, email recoveryehbc@gmail.com or call Eastern Heights Baptist Church. She also encourages music fans to check out an upcoming concert that is bringing together the Ray Charles children for the first time in 10 years for a concert benefitting her ministry and Habitat for Humanity. Information is available at www.afamilyrayunion.com.

 

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