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John Flynn brings songs of social justice to One World Coffeehouse in Columbia

John Flynn brings songs of social justice to One World Coffeehouse in Columbia
John Flynn performs at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way in Columbia. (Jim Graham / CONTRIBUTED photo)

Folk music and social activism traditionally have been so closely aligned that John Flynn is sure to hit some political notes when he performs at 7 p.m. Saturday in the One World Coffeehouse at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

“I’m a singer-songwriter known for songs with a social justice slant,” Flynn said. “These are songs dealing with my work with incarcerated and returning citizens. That has influenced a lot of my music.”

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Flynn is the executive director of a Delaware-based nonprofit organization, New Beginnings-Next Step Inc., which he founded in 2017. It offers counseling to prisoners and assistance to them when they have been released. Aimed at some of their immediate needs, such assistance includes weekly bus passes, grocery store gift cards and help with transitional housing.

This cause is close to Flynn’s heart, and so it definitely will get mentioned during his upcoming show in Columbia. Don’t expect a scripted lecture, however, because Flynn has a pretty easygoing approach to what is, after all, a casual coffeehouse venue.

“I know the song I’ll open with and the song I’ll close with and the rest we’ll figure out along the way,” Flynn said with a laugh. “I stay open to the energy of the crowd.”

On a very practical level, he added that such concerts are “how I finance my nonprofit” organization.

As a direct example of how this works, he mentioned that “along with bus passes and gift cards, we give returning citizens a backpack filled with supplies. I use a backpack in my show, and if people want to donate a dollar or two into it that’s fine. I’m thinking 80 percent of my budget is donations from fans.”

In addition to his mentoring of released prisoners, this 62-year-old musician has other causes about which he has deep feelings. In that regard, he has just released a new song, “An American Cage,” that he said is about “the inhumane treatment of our neighbors on the southern border.”

Flynn’s musical activism has been acknowledged with honors that within the past year include the 2018 Phil Ochs Award for music and activism and pursuit of social and political justice, and also an award given by a national association of criminal defense lawyers.

Musically, he has collaborated with the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Arlo Guthrie; released albums including “Vintage” in 2018; toured widely, including a number of concerts in Maryland over the years; and frequently sung both the American and Canadian national anthems at Philadelphia Phillies baseball games.

Flynn is also on the go to such an extent that it’s only fitting that this fitness advocate continues to run in marathons.

These diverse credentials make Flynn a nice fit for the One World Coffeehouse, a monthly series sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist congregation that meets at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

“John represents a perfect prototype of the type of performer we like to have,” said coffeehouse volunteer Ross Martin, who is himself a singer-songwriter living in Maple Lawn. “We try to seek inclusiveness, diversity and social action, which are all things that are important to us.”

John Flynn performs at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17, at Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way in Columbia. There is table seating, with light fare, white wine and beer permitted. Soda and treats will be available for sale. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Call 410-381-0097 or email oneworldcoffeehouse@uucolumbia.net.

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