Growing up in West Philly, Joshua Dingle struggled with such a severe stutter he could barely form a sentence. His parents tried speech therapy, but it didn't work. Then an unexpected breakthrough at age 12 changed his life.
"My parents introduced me to music and theater," Dingle said. "It wasn't because of my speech impediment, but because I needed something to do at that age."
Dingle said that within six to 12 months, his speech became "near-perfect."
"It was like a miracle," he said. "My grades improved, I was a lot more social, and my self-esteem and confidence grew."
Dingle, now 28, said music and theater revealed to him that the way he had thought about himself had affected his speech. Two years ago, he created an organization, Music Makes Me Happy, to help others use music to improve themselves and their communities.
MMMH organizes showcases for local artists, organizes outreach events, and, Dingle says, has a line of T-shirts and hats that have been seen on celebs such as gospel hip-hop artist LeCrae, gospel singer Erica Campbell, and R&B singers Jazmine Sullivan and Marsha Ambrosius.
On a recent Thursday night, Dingle hosted MMMH's second annual Networking Experience at the Indigo Design & Culture Center on Lancaster Avenue. The event - including a reception, vendors, and a panel discussion - brought together local artists, entrepreneurs, and others who push for social change and positivity in their communities using the arts.
Panelists included Grammy-winning songwriter and producer and founder of the Ethical Music Entertainment record label Carvin Haggins; hip-hop pioneer and Old School 100.3 FM radio personality Lady B; Jr. Music Executive founder and executive director Aisha Winfield; local hip-hop artist Chill Moody; and Art Sanctuary executive director Valerie Gay.
"It doesn't get any better than being able to wake up, go to work, and change a life just by saying or doing something that'll get a person further," Lady B said. She criticized those in the entertainment industry who "think it's all about social media, putting each other down and all that nonsense. We have to do better."
Haggins agreed, explaining that "music rescued me from North Philly. I would sit and listen to the Jackson 5's ABC album and escape" from family problems, including "my father not being around."
Haggins also stressed music's subtle influence on individuals and culture. "The way you dress, the way you talk, the way you think, is because of music," he said. "Even if you hate a song, the way you rebel against that song still has to do with music."
Along with the panel, representatives from organizations from Philly and New York networked with the crowd and one another.
ArtReach is a local nonprofit organization that helps bring arts experiences to the visually impaired, disabled, and low-income individuals and families. Program coordinator Angela Wand said, "This is our first time being a part of this event. But I am happy to be here."
Local singer, MC, and producer Joie Kathos opened the event with a song she wrote and produced that spoke about education, race, injustice, and positivity for youth. She shared her story before performing.
"A couple of years ago, I was told that I was going legally blind," she said. "Ever since, I have been looking at life way differently. The things I see are totally different from the things y'all see."
She said being from Philadelphia, she feels she has an obligation to give back to her community because "it the city that helped me cultivate my art in music."
"What better place to do that than the Music Makes Me Happy event?" she said. "Because, ideally, music does make me happy."