FLINT, Michigan — It wasn't the music or even all the love being shown Flint. Yo-Yo Ma's Day of Action in Flint was made so special, so very extraordinary, because of the man himself.
Yo-Yo Ma put his musical talent on display, talked through his ideals on the intersection between culture and community, made stops throughout the city and encouraged important dialogue.
But the coolest thing was ... he just hung out. Obviously, quite a bit of the time, there were throngs of fans surrounding him. No matter how many hands he shook or people he talked to, no matter how many questions he already had answered or selfies he took, no matter how many sweaty hugs or children he met — Ma just kept going. He made his way, with a full mob in tow, through both gymnasiums at Berston Field House during the free public event he hosted, "Flint Voices: Culture, Community, and Resilience."
Ma stopped at every exhibit and every food vendor. He watched all the performances. He went out of his way to meet the teachers behind the tap, dance, music, and spoken word performances.
"He was such a warm, joyful, kind-hearted human being — also a total rebel," said Tony Vu, owner of MaMang and whose whole crew managed a selfie with Ma. "Talking to him was immediately disarming and you really get a sense of the genuine Yo-Yo Ma versus the maestro extraordinaire image he's known for.
"The whole day of action was incredible. I was so proud to see all these amazing and diverse aspects of our community come together. Flint showed up big time."
Related story: Yo-Yo Ma's cultural showcase highlights what Flint has — and what is possible
Facebook was immediately flooded with photos from the event. Need proof? Check out that photo gallery above. Every one of those photos was taken by Flintside readers.
He jumped on Angela Stamp's bicycle blender to make smoothies. (Yes, seriously, it's a bicycle-powered blender. Both it and the smoothies it created were a big hit.) He wore a sombrero given to him by one of the members of El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil. He also stopped by Factory Two makerspace along with musical artist Tunde Olaniran with an excitement for potential growth of youth programming there.
"This inspired me to try to reach out to groups not already a part of Factory Two and to try new approaches to building community here in ways that haven't been explored yet," said Craig Farrington, an AmieriCorps member at Factory Two, who also attended Ma's speech in Ann Arbor where he encouraged people to experiment and learn from success and failure.
He went out of his way to talk to a group of community journalists, then ask a reporter's pre-school-aged daughter if she was the editor. He held up a banner promoting Berston Field House's renovation plans. He talked, smiled, listened.
"Yo-Yo Ma is a very personable, very energetic, very nice gentleman, who really just embraced the City of Flint and I thought it was a wonderful that he came here and did his day of action," said Bryant BB Nolden, executive director of Berston Field House.
He also inspired.
"I've been talking with my team at Berston and we were thinking that maybe we can start to do this each year on the very last day of February ... have a multicultural event that'll feature a lot of the different programs here in the city," Nolden said.
Yes, Ma did all this.
He also played the cello.