Credit: Contributed

Benven “Monty” Sheppard is bringing joy and care to New York City’s Sony Hall as the hospitality liaison. At the age of 46, Monty gets people up out of their seats every Sunday to dance along with the Harlem Gospel Choir. Every day, Monty wakes up with the intention of brightening a person’s day, and, so far, he has achieved this goal.

Monty grew up as the youngest of 8 children in Greenville, North Carolina. His mom knew he was different from a young age, as Monty was always a very happy kid. His positive outlook on life would fuel his big dreams for the future.

“When I told some of my family that I was coming to New York, there was some discouragement; you have to realize I’m from a small town,” says Monty. “I was even told that I would come home in a box. But, once I got here, I said all of those negatives that were given to me, I am going to turn them into positives.”

Monty moved to New York City in 1999. And, even with the gift of positivity, the move from a small town to a big city was still a stressful transition. Monty was able to get over his culture shock fairly quickly through being open to his surroundings. However, the challenges of a big city would prove to be more than expected.

“I came here with the purpose of wanting to dance,” says Monty. “In my mind I wanted to be a backup dancer for Janet Jackson, but once I moved to New York, I got here and became homeless.”

Monty spent much of his youth in church. Though he didn’t always enjoy the strict and time-consuming environment as a kid, this aspect of his life would prove to be helpful through difficult times as an adult.

“My mom is a pastor and I grew up in a very strict doctrine, but that’s what kept me grounded,” says Monty. “It felt like we were going to church seven days a week, and my mom would say ‘Just listen to the preacher, you’re gonna need this one day.’”

His mom would end up being right. When Monty faced homelessness as a young adult, his faith would be an anchor during this challenging period.

“When it [homelessness] happened to me, all I could think was ‘what am I going to do?’ But, because I had my own dreams of what I wanted to do, it was like maybe this was God’s plan for me to go through these steps in order for me to get where I am at today.”

Through what Monty describes as a miracle, he would eventually find relief from homelessness and get a job in food service at Chevy’s. His hospitable and friendly attitude would help him rise through the ranks at Chevy’s to general manager. Realizing that his true calling involved service, he would move on to work at B.B. King’s Blues Club and later Sony Hall music venue.

“I try to make sure I impact everyone here [Sony Hall], whether that’s through speaking, through looking at you, through high-fiving you, through pulling you on the dance floor, to asking if you’re okay; I want to make sure everyone is here. And, at the end, I go around and I try to shake everyone’s hand, to let them know ‘thank you for coming, you’re appreciated.’”

It is this considerate and kind attitude that has allowed Monty to not only grow professionally, but positively and impact others all over the world who visit Sony Hall. Though not everyone responds well to Monty’s infectious energy, he still strives to put a smile on everyone’s face.

“I can’t control how other people perceive me, I can only control what Monty gives back to them. [People] can be nasty to me, but I’m still going to smile,” says Monty. “When I wake up my daily prayer is ‘God, there’s nothing that will come my way today that you and I can’t handle.’ Whatever it is, I’m in control—I got this.”