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tv   60 Minutes  CBS  August 28, 2011 7:00pm-8:00pm PDT

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>> it's beautiful story and it's a lie. >> kroft: we wanted to talk to mortenson about that and some other things. but he didn't want to talk to "60 minutes." steve kroft. >> mortenson: nice to meet you. >> kroft: how you doing? >> mortenson: thanks. >> kroft: got five minute for us today? >> um... >> say your name! ( saying names loudly ) >> stahl: vy higginsen's goal is to bring gospel... >> ♪ go down... >> stahl: kids more likely to have been raised on hip hop... >> ♪ ♪ >> stahl: between the ages of 13 and 19 who gather in harlem each week from all over new york and new jersey to study the tradition and the art of singing gospel. >> ♪ let my people go... >> this music can make it better. it will make life better. >> ♪ let them go let my people go...
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>> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm lesley stahl. >> i'm bob simon. >> i'm morley safer. >> i'm anderson cooper. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes." [ male announcer ] applebee's 2 for $20 is back and fresher than ever. so grab your 2 for $20 club and come in for our new chicken fettuccine carbonara that's one appetizer, two entrees, just 20 bucks. it's the freshest 2 for $20 yet. only at applebee's. now serving half-price appetizers late night.
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president obama donated $100,000 to the group from the proceeds of his nobel prize. mortenson's book, "three cups of tea," has sold more than four million copies and has been required reading for u.s. servicemen bound for afghanistan. but last fall, we began investigating complaints from former donors, board members, staffers and charity watchdogs about mortenson and the way he is running his non-profit organization. the story you're about to see, which first aired in april, was the product of a seven-month investigation and caused quite a stir, because we raised serious questions about how millions of dollars have been spent, whether mortenson has been personally benefiting, and whether some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories in his books are even true. greg mortenson's books have made him a publishing phenomenon and a sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit, where he has attained a cult-like status.
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( applause ) he regularly draws crowds of several thousand people and $30,000 per engagement. and everywhere mortenson goes, he brings an inspirational message built around a story that forms the cornerstone of "three cups of tea" and his various ventures-- how, in 1993, he tried and failed to reach the summit of k-2, the world's second tallest mountain, to honor his dead sister; how he got lost and separated from his party on the descent and stumbled into a tiny village called korphe. >> greg mortenson: my pants were ripped in half, and i hadn't taken a bath in 84 days. and i stumbled into a little village called korphe, where i was befriended by the people and they gave me everything they had-- their yak butter, their tea. they put warm blankets over me, and they helped nurse me back to health. >> kroft: mortenson tells how he discovered 84 children in the back of the village, writing their school lessons with sticks in the dust. >> mortenson: and when a young
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girl named chocho came up to me, and said, "can you help us build a school?," i made a rash promise that day, and i said, "i promise i'll help you build a school." little did i know it would change my life forever. >> kroft: it's a powerful and heartwarming tale that has motivated millions of people to buy his books and to contribute nearly $60 million to his charity. >> jon krakauer: it's a beautiful story, and it's a lie. >> kroft: jon krakauer is also a best-selling author and mountaineer, who wrote "into thin air" and "into the wild." he was one of mortenson's earliest backers, donating $75,000 to his non-profit organization. but after a few years, krakauer says he withdrew his support over concerns that the charity was being mismanaged, and he later learned that the korphe tale that launched mortenson into prominence was simply not true. did he stumble into this village in a weakened state? >> krakauer: absolutely not. >> kroft: so, nobody helped him out and nursed him back to health. >> krakauer: absolutely not. i... i have spoken to one of his
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companions, a close friend who hiked out from k2 with him. this companion said, "greg never heard of korphe till a year later." >> kroft: strangely enough, krakauer's version of events is backed up by greg mortenson himself in his earliest telling of the story. in an article he wrote for the newsletter of the american himalayan foundation after his descent from k-2, mortenson makes no mention of his experience in korphe, although he did write that he hoped to build a school in another village called khane. we managed to track down the two porters who accompanied mortenson and spoke to them in pakistan's remote hushe valley. they also told us that mortenson didn't stumble into korphe lost and alone, and that he didn't go to korphe at all until nearly a year later on another visit. he did build a school in korphe. >> krakauer: he did, and it's a good thing. but if you go back and read the first few chapters of that book, you realize, "i'm being taken for a ride here." >> mortenson: one of the most compelling experiences i had was
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in july of '96. >> kroft: it's not a solitary example. upon close examination, some of the most touching and harrowing tales in mortenson's books appear to have been either greatly exaggerated or made up out of whole cloth. >> mortenson: i went in to the area to find a place to build a school. and what happened is, i got kidnapped by the taliban for eight days. >> kroft: the kidnapping story was featured in "three cups of tea" and referred to in his follow-up bestseller, "stones into schools," with this 1996 photograph of his alleged captors. we managed to locate four men who were there when the photo was taken; two of them actually appear in the picture. all of them insist they are not taliban and that greg mortenson was not kidnapped. they also gave us another photo of the group with mortenson holding the ak-47. one of the men, mansur khan mahsud, is the research director of a respected think tank in islamabad and has produced scholarly articles published in the u.s. until recently, he had no idea
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that he had been shown as a kidnapper in a best-selling book. >> mansur khan mahsud: that's me. >> kroft: we spoke with mahsud via skype. he told us that he and the other people in the photograph were mortenson's protectors in waziristan, not his abductors. the story, as mr. mortenson tells it, is that he was held for eight days and won you over by asking for a koran and promising to build schools in the area. is that true? >> mahsud: this is totally false, and he is lying. he was not kidnapped. >> kroft: who are these people that are also in the picture? >> mahsud: some are my cousins. some are our friends from our village. >> kroft: well, why do you think mr. mortenson would write this? >> mahsud: to sell his book. >> kroft: another place where no one has done much checking is into the financial records of mortenson's non-profit organization, the central asia institute, which builds and funds the schools in pakistan and afghanistan, and is located in bozeman, montana, where
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mortenson lives. he says the charity took in $23 million in contributions last year-- some it from thousands of school children who emptied their piggy banks to help its "pennies for peace" program, and some of it from large fundraisers like this one in santa clara, california. >> we got a $1,500 bid here. she's got to get to that school getting built, ladies and gentlemen, tonight! >> kroft: this organization's been around for 14 years. how many audited financial statements has it issued? >> daniel borochoff: one. ( laughs ) >> kroft: one. >> borochoff: it's amazing that they could get away with that. >> kroft: daniel borochoff is president of the american institute of philanthropy, which has been examining and rating charitable organizations for the last two decades. he says the central asia institute's financial statements show a lack of transparency and a troublesome intermingling of mortenson's personal business interests with the charity's public purpose. according to the documents, the non-profit spends more money domestically promoting the
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importance of building schools in afghanistan and pakistan than it does actually constructing and funding them overseas. >> borochoff: what's surprising is that most of the program spending is not to help kids in pakistan and afghanistan; it's actually their, what they call, domestic outreach where he goes around the country speaking, and the costs incurred for that-- things like travel-- is a major component of that, you know. just advertising... >> kroft: what does that mean? >> borochoff: sounds like a book tour to me. >> kroft: his point is that when greg mortenson travels all over the country at the charity's expense, he is promoting and selling his books and collecting speaking fees that the charity does not appear to be sharing in. according to the financial statement, the charity receives no income from the bestsellers and little if any income from mortenson's paid speaking engagements, while listing $1.7 million in "book-related expenses."
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the $1.7 million that they spent for book-related expenses is more than they spent on all of their schools in pakistan last year. >> borochoff: correct. >> kroft: what do you say... i mean... >> borochoff: it's disappointing. you would hope that... that they would be spending a lot more on the schools in pakistan than they would on... on book- related costs. why doesn't mr. mortenson spend his own money on the book- related costs? he's the one getting the revenues. >> kroft: in fiscal year 2009, the charity spent $1.5 million on advertising to promote mortenson's books in national publications like this full-page ad in the "new yorker," and there are $1.3 million in domestic travel expenses, some of it for private jets. late last night, we received a statement from the board of directors of the central asia institute acknowledging that it receives no royalties or income from greg mortenson's book sales or speaking engagements. but the board says the books and the speeches are an integral part of its mission, by raising public awareness and generating contributions.
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and it claims that mortenson has personally contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organization. but the american institute of philanthropy is not persuaded. >> borochoff: i don't think the charity's getting a fair share here, based on the financial reports that i've reviewed. >> kroft: do you think contributors are being misled? >> borochoff: i think so. >> kroft: and so does jon krakauer, who says it's been going on for a long time. >> krakauer: in 2002, his board treasurer quit, resigned, along with the board president and two other board members, and said, "you should stop giving money to greg." >> kroft: did he say why? >> krakauer: he said, in so many words, that greg uses central asia institute as his private a.t.m. machine, that there's no accounting, he has no receipts. >> kroft: over the years, a half a dozen staffers and board members have resigned over similar concerns, especially about money mortenson has sent overseas to build schools. >> krakauer: you know, nobody is overseeing what... what goes on. he doesn't know how many schools he's built. nobody knows how much these schools cost.
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>> kroft: the i.r.s. tax return central asia institute filed last year included a list of 141 schools that it claimed to have built or supported in pakistan and afghanistan. over the past six months, we visited or looked into nearly 30 of them. some were performing well, but roughly half were empty, built by somebody else, or not receiving support at all. some were being used to store spinach or hay for livestock. others had not received any money from mortenson's charity in years. the principal of this school told us that the institute had built six classrooms poorly several years ago, and since then, not a single rupee. in afghanistan, we could find no evidence that six of the schools even existed, most of them in war-torn kunar province. >> krakauer: in kunar province, it's really violent. he built three schools there in 2009. so he goes on "charlie rose," he says he built 11 schools in kunar province. >> mortenson: today, we have 11 schools also in that district.
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>> krakauer: why can't he just say he built three? i mean, that's impressive. you say you built 11, i go, "why are you lying about this?" >> kroft: one of the schools we looked into in afghanistan is this one in bozoi gumbaz, a remote outpost in the wakhan corridor, on the roof of the world. mortenson's second book, "stones into schools," begins with abdul rashid khan, the leader of a semi-nomadic people, sending horsemen to summon mortenson to his camp. the book ends with khan on his deathbed, ordering every available yak in the high pamir to haul supplies for a school that will serve 200 children. but ted callahan, an anthropologist who spent nearly a year in the area, says the story doesn't ring true. >> ted callahan: the number of children that this one school's going to educate-- that's just nonsense. the words that abdul rashid khan says in this book-- this is a man who probably came to my tent every day for an hour or two, and the man that i knew is not the man who's portrayed in this book. >> kroft: you seem to be saying that most of it is b.s.
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>> callahan: the most generous thing i could say is that it's... it's grossly exaggerated. and probably the harshest thing i could say is... is a lot of it just sounds like outright fabrication. >> kroft: today, the school sits empty, and we're told by a tribal leader that it has never been used. >> callahan: no one's there. no one's there at all. you know, i think, at best, it might end up being used as... as a storage shed for stuff. >> kroft: we obviously wanted to talk to greg mortenson, who has appeared on just about every news and talk show on television, but he didn't want to talk to "60 minutes." he dismissed our initial request for an interview last fall, and our follow-up messages and emails over the past two weeks have gone unanswered. we finally decided to seek him out at a speaking engagement and book signing in atlanta. steve kroft. >> mortenson: nice to meet you. >> kroft: how you doing? >> mortenson: thanks. >> kroft: you got five minute for us today? >> mortenson: i need to sign these books right now, so... >> kroft: yeah, i know. you know, we haven't heard from... it's been almost a week. we haven't heard from you or the board, and we're just trying to... >> mortenson: i need to sign these right now.
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>> kroft: i don't want to disrupt this, but... >> mortenson: well, you're already disrupting it, so, thanks. >> kroft: okay. can we come back? we'll wait for you. >> mortenson: thanks. >> hey, how are you? >> kroft: mortenson's staff immediately contacted hotel security, which asked us to leave. they told us if we retired to the lobby, one of his staff members would stop by or call us to discuss a possible interview. they never did. mortenson canceled his afternoon appearance and left the hotel through a back entrance. >> krakauer: he's not bernie madoff. i mean, let's be clear-- he has done a lot of good. he has helped thousands of... of school kids in pakistan and afghanistan. he has become perhaps the world's most effective spokesperson for girls' education in developing countries, and he deserves credit for that. nevertheless, he is now threatening to bring it all down, to destroy all of it by this fraud and by these lies. >> kroft: since our story first aired, the montana attorney general has launched an inquiry into greg mortenson's charity, a
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civil lawsuit has been filed against him, and mortenson has all but disappeared from the public stage. he has said he stands by the information in his books and the value of his charity's work, and he has called the attacks against him "unjustified." but he has cancelled speaking appearances, citing poor health and legal problems. after our story ran, the school at bozoi gumbaz opened for the summer, serving about 35 students. >> cbs money watch update sponsored by: >> mitchell: good evening. an early estimate puts total losses from hurricane irene at $7 billion. that's less than first feared. wall street will open for business tomorrow despite some flooding in lower manhattan. an irene forced 1,000 movie theaters to close over the weekend, but "the help" remained number one. i'm russ mitchell, cbs news.
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>> stahl: there's a street in harlem that comes alive every saturday with the sound of music, gospel music. as we first reported last spring, you won't find any church there-- just a brownstone full of teenagers and the woman who draws them in. her name is vy higginsen, a new york radio personality and theater producer. and five years ago, she created something called gospel for teens. never heard of it? well, we think you'll be glad you did. and if you're thinking that vy higginsen thought up this program as a way to save the teens, you'd be wrong. she did it to save the music. >> ♪ go down, moses... >> stahl: these are the faces and voices of gospel for teens-- kids between the ages of 13 and 19 who gather in harlem each
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week from all over new york and new jersey to study the tradition and the art of singing gospel. ♪ ♪ >> vy higginsen: it's uniquely american. it's a story of a people in song created out of an american experience. >> stahl: and you are not going to let it die. >> higginsen: no. >> stahl: this is vy higginsen's advanced class. >> ♪ this is the way we praise you... >> stahl: but each fall, she brings in a new group, putting out a call for auditions in local papers, on radio, and in churches. she calls them her beginners, and we asked if we could come along. >> higginsen: we'll take the first singer, please. >> ♪ jehovah... >> stahl: yolanda howard, age 14, had arrived by subway from the bronx before the mikes were even set up.
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>> yolanda howard: i was so happy, because i was the first person. ♪ ♪ >> stahl: and she brought along her friend, rhonda rodriguez, who started off a little shaky. >> ♪ ♪ >> stahl: were you nervous? >> rhonda rodriguez: i was really nervous. >> higginsen: hold up. move her to "this little light of mine." >> stahl: did you think you had gotten in? >> rodriguez: no. >> stahl: did they really, really have to be great in the audition? >> higginsen: absolutely not. they simply have to carry a tune. we don't expect them to be great; they're teenagers. >> stahl: of course, great is welcome, too. >> ♪ ♪ >> stahl: vy higginsen's goal... >> ♪ amazing grace.... >> stahl: to bring gospel to kids more likely to have been
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raised on hip hop. >> ♪ ...the sound... >> higginsen: that's it? where's the rest of the song? that's why we have this school. >> stahl: so she and the teachers she calls "music masters," including her own daughter knoelle, want to accept as many kids as they can. but there were a few who seemed to throw them... >> gabby francois: ♪ joyful, joyful lord... >> stahl: 16-year-old gabby francois. >> ♪ joyful, joyful lord, we adore thee... i want you to bring it up. >> francois: ♪ joyful, joyful lord... >> stahl: something about her seemed to puzzle vy. >> higginsen: i was curious, and i couldn't put my finger on it. what's under the scarf? >> francois: my hair; i didn't do it. >> higginsen: so you can't take it off? what is it?
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there was something else going on behind the music. >> francois: ♪ this little light of mine... >> stahl: she stopped singing. >> higginsen: yeah. part of me wanted to say, "is this going to be trouble?" >> stahl: why didn't you say that? >> higginsen: something stopped me from saying it. uh, who's next? >> stahl: if there was a star of this audition, it would be 14- year-old david moses from brooklyn, who walked in just before the audition ended. >> david moses: ♪ amazing grace... >> stahl: david sings in his church choir. he knew the song all the way through. >> moses: it fills me with a lot of joy when i sing, so i just sing. >> stahl: all the time? >> moses: yes. >> stahl: walking down the street? >> moses: yes. >> stahl: in the shower? >> moses: yes. >> stahl: doing homework? >> moses: yes. >> stahl: david had heard about gospel for teens from a friend, and thought that his dad was going to drive him to harlem that day. >> he said, "listen, dad, you going to take me to the audition?"
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i said, "what audition?" >> we actually forgot about it. >> stahl: they forgot? >> moses: they actually forgot about the audition. >> stahl: so they asked a friend to take david and hold up a cell phone during his audition so they could listen in. >> moses: ♪ ♪ >> my son was singing. the place was going crazy. >> moses: ♪ ♪ ( cheers and applause ) >> let me tell you, the next week, i made sure daddy and mommy was bringing him back to class. >> higginsen: i want to formally welcome you... >> stahl: and that next saturday, there they were, the 46 kids vy chose as her new beginners class. >> moses: my name's david. i'm 14. i'm from brooklyn. >> stahl: including yolanda howard, her friend rhonda rodriguez, who thought she wouldn't get in, and gabby francois, this time without the scarf.
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vy had decided to give her a chance. >> higginsen: we're learning the music of gospel as an art form. >> stahl: vy scrapes together the money for this program from grants, small donations, and ticket sales. she insists that the kids learn to sing gospel for free. i want you to begin to shake your hands. shake. shake. >> stahl: why shaking before singing? it's part warm-up, part message- - "leave everything but the music outside the door." >> higginsen: any worry, any pain, any problem with your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, the dog, the boyfriend-- i want that out, now, of your consciousness. that's your baggage. leave the bags outside, because this time is for you. ♪ ♪ >> stahl: you feel all their troubles go. >> higginsen: i feel it. i see it. the next thing you know, i see a smile.
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and i know that's when they're ready. and i'll make them shake until i get it. ( laughs ) >> greg kelly: ♪ i have come... >> stahl: and then, music master greg kelly started working his magic. ♪ ♪ >> higginsen: i'm going, "whoa, this group's a little extra." they had a little spark. ♪ ♪ >> stahl: by the end of their first lesson-- a single two-hour class-- this group of 46 strangers had learned not one, but three songs, each in three- part harmony. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> higginsen: wow.
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first day of school! >> stahl: but a few weeks later... >> higginsen: everybody, all at once, say your name out loud. >> stahl: ...we were surprised to find vy coaching the kids, not on a challenging piece of music, but on something you'd think would be easy-- saying their names. >> howard: yolanda howard. bronx. 14. >> stahl: it's an exercise she developed after the first auditions for gospel for teens, when she could barely hear the kids introduce themselves. and it troubled her. >> higginsen: they were mumbling, and they were saying it under their breath. and i just... "this is terrible." >> amber castle: amber castle. new york city. >> stahl: to have those little teeny voices that you can't hear is almost to say, "i'm ashamed." >> higginsen: "i'm ashamed of who i am and where i come from." no. >> kristin poston: kristen poston. 15. brooklyn, new york. >> vanity stubbs: vanity stubbs. 16. brooklyn, new york. >> francois: sorry.
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>> stahl: this wasn't the first time gabby francois had drawn attention. did any of the music masters come to you and talk to you about gabby...? >> higginsen: yeah. >> stahl: ...slouching... >> higginsen: chewing gum, slouching, watching, not singing. y'all can't go like that. say it again. >> francois: gabrielle francois. >> stahl: so during the next break, vy was in there trying to draw gabby out. >> higginsen: come on. come on. >> francois: gabriraelle f come on, come on. >> francois: i thought you was talking to him. >> higginsen: no, no, you. >> francois: i said it. >> stahl: and that was just the beginning of the drama in the room that day. >> howard: yolanda howard. 14 years old. bronx, new york. >> rodriguez: (quietly): rhonda rodriguez... >> higginsen: come on, you can do it. support her. ( applause ) >> stahl: she broke down.
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>> higginsen: she broke down. >> higginsen: you want to do it later? she's wants to do it later. but you're coming back. >> stahl: at that point, did you know anything about what her personal life was like? >> higginsen: nothing. >> stahl: zero. >> higginsen: nothing. only what was presented in front of me. i saw her tears. i saw her eyes. i saw her nervousness about saying her name. >> rodriguez: rhonda rodriguez. 15. bronx, new york. >> okay. we'll work with you next week, okay? >> stahl: vy started gospel for teens with the clear idea of leaving all the baggage at the door, but as she has learned-- and as we saw-- sometimes, it creeps back in. >> higginsen: it's going to be all right. >> stahl: we wondered about rhonda's life outside this place, what might make the simple act of saying her name feel so overwhelming. and when we asked, it led us here, to one of the toughest parts of new york city, the
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south bronx, where rhonda is being raised by carmen rivera. so, you are not her mother. >> carmen rivera: no, ma'am. >> stahl: are you her grandmother? >> rivera: no. >> stahl: she's her grandmother's mother. you're her great-grandmother? >> rivera: yes. >> stahl: and she's had rhonda since she was a baby. do you know your mother? >> rodriguez: yeah, i know my mother. >> stahl: is she in your life? >> rodriguez: no, she comes around, like, probably twice or three times a year. >> stahl: that's painful. >> rodriguez: yeah. it's been happening all my life, so i'm pretty much used to it, so... >> stahl: and she's not alone. it turns out that the entire building where rhonda lives is set aside for kids being raised by grandparents. rhonda's friend yolanda, who had been the first to audition, lives two floors up with her great aunt, melvenia smith. yolanda met her father for the first time ever just last year.
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>> melvenia smith: he came to my house and he told his big, elaborate tale about, "i'm here for you." he gave her $20 and, "i'll be back on sunday to take you to the movie." she stayed home from church that sunday, waiting for him. he never showed up, and that's been a year ago. >> howard: i mean, i forgive him because it wasn't his fault. >> stahl: what wasn't his fault? >> howard: because he had to work. that was his excuse. >> stahl: so you wrote a song about it. >> howard: yes. >> stahl: can you sing it for us? >> howard: i'd love to. all right. ♪ even though i may not know you, i suppose ♪ even though i kind of miss you, that i know... >> smith: we are women. we can take the mother place, but we can't take the father place. "where is he?" >> howard: ♪ oh, daddy ♪ daddy father ♪ where were you when i needed
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you the most? ♪ daddy daddy ♪ father, where were you? and where are you now...? >> stahl: that is unbelievable. you're smiling and i'm not. why do you say you forgive him? i don't forgive him. i don't. you're a child. >> howard: yes. >> ♪ joshua fought the battle of jericho... >> stahl: but up on stage four months into this program, yolanda howard was not a girl struggling with an absent father. she was one of 40 kids stomping and clapping and singing their hearts out in the first gospel music competition gospel for teens had ever entered. ♪ ♪
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>> higginsen: they tore that up. i'm sorry, they tore that stage up. ( cheers and applause ) >> our grand prize winner-- gospel for teens from harlem, u.s.a. ( cheers and applause ) >> higginsen: i just wanted to hug them. i wanted them to see what it feels like to win. ( laughs ) >> stahl: and this is where the story should end, shouldn't it? but life is sometimes more complicated, as we discovered as the gospel for teens beginners moved into their second semester, which you will see when we come back. >> welcome to the cbs spores update presented by lipitor. yesterday in the final round of the rain-shortened barclays, the pga tour playoffs for the fedex cup, 27-year-old american dustin johnson was the winner by two over matt kuchar. it was johnson's first win in 11 months. he shot a final round 65.
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>> stahl: when vy higginsen started gospel for teens, she had no intention of creating a therapy program for at-risk kids. and in fact, many of the teens who go don't seem to be at risk at all. they come from stable, intact middle-class homes, like david moses. ♪ ♪ darrell and veronica moses sing with their children, and make sure they're home for dinner as a family every night. >> veronica moses: after your practice, you come straight home. we have to raise our children. if we don't, someone else will... >> darrell moses: straight home. >> veronica moses: ...meaning the streets, drugs, gangs, you name it. >> stahl: do you think it's harder to raise a young black teenager? >> darrell moses: yeah. i grew up in the projects, and i
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watched my father go through a lot to hold onto his family. and one of the reasons why you see me here-- not just my wife, but you see me here also-- is because i vowed that i would walk this walk with them. they can turn around years from now and say, "my father was right there." >> ♪ how can anyone ever tell you... >> stahl: gospel for teens has a theme song, and vy says she chose it for a reason. >> higginsen: i actually weeped when i heard it. ♪ ♪ "don't let anybody ever tell you that you're anything less than beautiful." ( sighs ) >> rodriguez: ♪ ...that you're
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less than whole... >> stahl: what did it mean to you? >> rodriguez: it means, to me, that i feel actually kind of special, in a way. >> higginsen: that song is designed to empower you and to think about yourself differently than you think somebody else may have thought about you, to change your mind. >> stahl: it certainly seemed to change something in gabby francois. ♪ ♪ >> stahl: gabby, of all people, gets up and starts singing this song. >> higginsen: surprised. i was surprised, touched. i mean, she wanted to. ♪ ♪ >> stahl: but what touched vy even more was an email gabby sent when the year was almost over, explaining what this place has meant to her. she read me the email. >> francois: "i may seem quiet
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in class or upset, but it's only because i build up all my pain so i can sing it all out." "my mother doesn't really appreciate the fact that i sing. i actually snuck out for the audition for gospel for teens. that's why you never see her around, or my dad. miss vy, you believed in me when no one else did." that's all i had to say. >> higginsen: my god. we had no idea what it meant to her. >> stahl: she wanted you to know. >> higginsen: it's a big lesson for me, because if i had only looked at her surface-- that judgment, it's so quick to dismiss. "out. i don't like your attitude." >> stahl: then, one rainy saturday in early may, just weeks before their final, end- of-the-year performance, the kids-- and we-- walked into
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something none of us were expecting. we found a shaken vy reversing her own policy and asking kids to bring their baggage in. >> higginsen: how many of you have lost somebody recently? oh, my god. >> stahl: it seemed more hands were up than down. >> i lost my cousin when i was going into my sophomore year. >> stahl: his cousin was stabbed to death in front of him. >> castle: i lost my cousin a year ago. >> higginsen: how old? >> castle: thirteen. >> higginsen: thirteen? >> castle: drive by. >> stahl: the amount of violence and loss in so many of these young people's lives... >> he died at 19. >> stahl: ...seemed to come as a shock to vy. what prompted her to ask when she hadn't wanted to know? it was the news that david moses' cousin had just died, a 15-year-old like david, killed by a gunshot to the head. vy asked him to come before his classmates and sing it out.
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>> david moses: ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> stahl: even david moses, with that wonderful, close family, and his 15-year-old cousin died from a gunshot wound. >> higginsen: ( sighs ) >> david moses: ♪ ♪ >> stahl: the music, the words are about struggle, and a lot of these kids are there. they're struggling. >> higginsen: they are struggling. we live in a violent society. so now, what do you do with all that? how do you get it off of you? how do you live? >> ♪ the storm ♪ ♪ >> higginsen: you have to go somewhere where there's sacred ground, where there's hope,
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where there's possibility, where there's a better life. >> stahl: which, of course, is exactly what gospel music was designed to provide in the first place. ♪ ♪ do you tell the kids the history, how this music grew out of slavery? >> higginsen: i tell them that the first right as african americans in this country was the right to sing. that was allowed during slavery. before reading, writing, school, church, we could sing. >> ♪ he reigns... he reigns... ♪ he reigns... he reigns... >> stahl: so, as gospel for teens erupted on stage for their big spring concert before a packed hall, we're not sure how much the kids were thinking about this music's history, but for two hours, they sure captured its power. ♪ ♪ and when it came time for their
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theme song, vy selected a surprise soloist. >> francois: i was so nervous, because i looked at the crowd. i'm like, "oh, that's a lot of people." >> stahl: gabby francois. >> francois: ♪ how can anyone ever tell you... ♪ that you're anything less than beautiful? ♪ how can anyone ever tell ♪ that you're anything less than whole? >> stahl: how do you think she did? >> higginsen: i thought she was wonderful. she needed to sing that song. >> stahl: we wondered whether gabby's parents had come to hear her sing this time. they had not. ♪ ♪ ( applause ) what do you think about these kids whose parents never come? >> higginsen: i can only think that they do it anyway.
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with or without their parents, they do it anyway. so what does that say about who they are-- their commitment, their resilience, their drive? all of those things are necessary for success. i got to let them introduce themselves to you. >> stahl: and then came that moment they'd been preparing for. >> higginsen: you know how i want you to say your name. ( saying names loudly ) >> stahl: she didn't want them to just say their name; she wanted them to shout it, to belt it out, because, she says, of who they are and where they've come from. >> higginsen: they're survivors. stand up. stand up and let people see you. be proud of the fact that you are survivors. >> francois: gabby!
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17! brooklyn, new york! >> david moses: david moses! 15! brooklyn, new york! >> stahl: you're watching, and rhonda-- you know she's third, next, second, next... >> higginsen: yeah. i'm sitting on the edge of my seat. ( laughs ) >> stahl: "is she going to do it?" >> higginsen: "is she going to do it?" >> rodriguez: rhonda rodriguez! >> higginsen: yes! she did it. >> ♪ go down, moses... ♪ ♪ >> stahl: you spend nine months with these kids, you give them everything. and they finally get up for this performance. >> higginsen: i couldn't stay in my chair. my heart's dancing. my mind's racing. i'm watching everything and i'm watching everybody. >> stahl: and what she, and everyone else, saw that day was a group of teenagers transformed.
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♪ ♪ >> francois: i can't even describe it. it's the most wonderful thing i ever been a part of with my life. ♪ ♪ >> stahl: are you going to come back next year? >> david moses: definitely. >> stahl: definitely? >> david moses: definitely. >> stahl: what's going on inside? >> howard: joy. that's what's inside my heart all the time when i'm in here. >> stahl: do you ever think that you're actually saving some of these kids? >> higginsen: i guess i'm thinking that this music can make it better. it will make life better. it's victorious. and it grabs you. i mean, it's like, "yeah, i gotcha! whoo!" ♪ ♪
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( applause ) >> stahl: gospel for teens received a flood of letters and support after our story aired. vy is saving up in hopes of moving to a larger space. and it seems that when yolanda's father heard her song, he reached out to her, and they have seen each other twice. gabby francois is now in college, but she hasn't been back to gospel for teens for a while. she has to work saturdays in a fast food restaurant. auditions for vy's new beginners class will be held next month. >> go to for more of the story behind yolanda howard's song to her father. hi. welcome. thanks for coming. we're going to head on into the interview. greg . . . greg . .. was fuel efficiency an important factor in buying this car? oh definitely. as all my friends would tell you, i am one of the cheapest people you'll ever meet.
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>> stahl: i'm lesley stahl. we'll be back next week with another edition of "60 minutes."
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