I went straight to Instagram and starting posting like a star-struck teen in Hollywood. I was gushing, in fact, to my colleagues about how ah-may-zing the weekend was. Angela Davis. Roland Martin. Danny Glover. Jesse Williams. Macklemore. Hill Harper. Common. I mean, I could go on with the name-dropping but let’s talk about why they matter so much.
Harry Belafonte, that’s right- Mr. B, imagined a movement that came to fruition beautifully. Sankofa.org, Mr. B’s organization, promoted justice, peace, and freedom at Many Rivers to Cross Festival. The two day festival created a sense of community that varied in age, class, and race. Every attendee came with one intention- to have a good time. The precedence of community and respect was set in the tone of the initial event marketing; which was a small factor that set this festival apart.
While it’s all about the words and images used to advertise, it’s what actually happens at the festival that matters most. Mixed in the crowd were canvassers soliciting voter's registration. I walked around and caught visual expression in the form of dance and paintings. My ears were graced with angelic, soulful, rhythmic, strong, and sultry voices. My heart, oh, my heart was touched by statements made by revolutionaries some of us only dream of meeting. I listened to Angela Davis tell the crowd that this festival should fuel our passion. Part of her mission is prison reform and elimination and she explained “... it’s about change. It’s about education and creating communities that raise our people to no longer need prisons.” Her solution to one our prison problems is to start at home- raise your children with good values and respect for one another! A few acts behind Ms. Davis, Carlos Santana set the stage on fire. He stopped during his performance, though, to empower the crowd through words on belief. “We are the ones with compassion, kindness, grace. This is the time and place to emancipate yourself from mental slavery. That [mental slavery] is thinking you aren’t worthy enough for grace. All you have to do is allow yourself to be guided by love. Once you have love you are whole and can make a positive change in this world!”
Danny Glover even went on to say we have to be a part of the movement for justice to get our peace. He touched on our youth being set up for a future of mistreatment if we don't step in and take action. "We have to stop the pipeline! Our boys and girls don't deserve to be set up in the pipeline to prison. Do your part. Be the example. Use your voice and vote on these political leaders that create YOUR laws." The position of power that we are in as (formal or informally) educated people can't be taken away unless we give it away and we do that when we sit idly by.
In addition to heavy weight speakers, the musical talents displayed rocked. TI, Macklemore, and Common rapped some of their hits for us. John Legend and Alice Smith gave the crowd stellar performances and the surprise appearance from Maxwell wowed us all. Many other artists, performers, and speakers were involved but the weekend wouldn't have been possible had it not been for Harry Belafonte. At 90 years old, he walked up on that stage and stole the show. He imparted personal memories during the civil rights era that ignited a fire in that whole space. His passion for purpose and justice for minorities in America and their equal treatment are evident in his musical and political contributions, to this day. He said a lot but one thing that will stick with me forever is this- "Don't waste your voice." Ironically, he said that with a course voice and mentioned he hadn't sang in 12 years, since his stroke in NYC. He sang and received a resounding applause from us all. He was teaching us through the movement, with the arts, and I was learning.
Through various media platforms, Many Rivers to Cross Festival advertised that “...incredible artists have come together to leverage their music and their art to unite people around issues of social justice and human rights.” That my friends, is exactly what occurred. While the content they gave us was of grand value, it’s what we do with it that will make a difference. Kudos to you, Sankofa.org for gifting us with a powerful weekend of purpose through the arts. There may be many rivers to cross, but we can build a bridge to get over each one through unity.