The Meaning Of Freedom concert honors Angela Davis and highlights a growing movement

by Cierra Johnson

“Sometimes when listening to music, we get lost in the melodies, distracted by the groove, and miss the purpose of what it is that we have to say. The Black Lives Matter Concert was nothing like that.” -Shania Wilcox, Class of 2017

“This show is proving that work still needs to be done. This show to me is a cry for help. Please value our lives.” -Angela Whitaker, Class of 2018

As I stood by the BPC before the Black Lives Matter: The Meaning of Freedom show honoring Angela Davis, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer amount of people waiting to get inside. There were long lines of people spilled out onto the sidewalk, and more in line to receive tickets before the show. Prior to the show, I had an idea of what it would entail, as I had the privilege of sitting in on the first rehearsal for the vocalists. What I didn’t know was how emotionally charged and powerful it would be, and the ways it would impact me as an African-American living in the United States. The show began with Kevin Johnson, Director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion introducing Angela Davis. He then shared a story of a time he was unfairly harassed, arrested, and abused by police officers. He was a freshman in college standing outside of a bar waiting for his friends. Before they knew he was missing, the police had him in the back of their car for no real reason other than the fact that he was black in America. This was no typical show at the BPC.

After Kevin’s speech several Emerson students showcased performance pieces in honor of the black lives matter movement.  Several pieces interested me from Emerson’s set, but one truly riveting performance was a poem titled “Miley, Pls Stop” performed by CJ West & Evan Cutts. It beautifully articulated how music performed by white artists can often appropriate black culture with no regard or acknowledgement of said culture. One line that struck me was, “Is the music industry a microcosm of institutionalized racism?” Here at Berklee, we rarely discuss the intersections of race and music, but we should. In many ways the music industry does reflect society’s racism spit right back at us, often in upbeat catchy melodies and thinly veiled lyrics.

After Emerson students left the stage, President Roger Brown introduced Angela Davis, who then spoke before the audience. Her words were eloquently put and intellectually sound, and I truly enjoyed her comments addressing the often stated, yet ignorant All Lives Matter “movement”. Simply put, if all lives mattered we wouldn’t have to reinforce the fact that black lives do. Ms. Davis’s speech ended with lyrics from Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free,” a song that aligned with the message of the entire evening.

Finally, the Berklee performers took the stage and concluded the evening. This portion of the show was extraordinary. It began with Four Women, made famous by Nina Simone, and the audience seemed in awe of the talented women performing. Notably, there were quotes dispersed throughout the show, in between each song. As one audience member and Berklee student Elizabeth Mendez mentioned,

“The quotes were a good touch because it kept the focus of the show in view. Sometimes we get distracted by the talent and songs, but the quotes kept reminding us of why we were there.”

Indeed, the quotes kept us all reminded of the real reason we sat in the room. We were there not only to hear the beautiful voices and talented musicians who accompanied them, but to celebrate Angela Davis, the black lives matter movement, and the meaning of freedom.

The songs that impacted me the most were Cold War, performed by Lyric Stephen and Kertron Mackey, Freedom with Amber Kiner and Chanise Parks, and I was Created For This with Briana Washington. Expertly delivered with vocal power, and restraint when necessary, the audience loved Briana’s rendition of “I Was Created For This” originally sang by Tweet. Towards the end of the song the audience began a thunderous applause, and awarded her with a standing ovation. Cold War moved me to tears, as the original version of the song is up-tempo, and this arrangement turned the tune into a slow ballad. This updated version forced me listen to the lyrics more clearly, and in turn feel them at a higher level. “This is a cold war, you better know what you’re fighting for. This is a cold war, do you know what you’re fighting for?” These lines from Cold War embody what the Black Lives Matter movement means for me. Indeed, we do know what we’re fighting for.

In essence, when we say Black Lives Matter we fight for freedom, for the ability to be seen as human, and we know that we will not back down.

“The BLM movement means acknowledging the racial injustices that plague this country in everyday life. It means that we as a nation must fight for the racial equality to ensure everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, safety and peace.” -Denver Powell, Class of 2019

As singer/performer Briana Washington (vocalist on “I Was Created For This”) said, “Until white supremacy stands down from their position we will not stop fighting. It means striving for freedom until we attain it.”

This statement summarizes what the Black Lives matter concert series (and movement) says to me. I sincerely hope that Berklee will continue this series until they are no longer necessary. Hopefully one day that will be a reality, but until then, we will use music to showcase our movement, and our voices. Music has the power to change the world, and we at Berklee recognize this, and will continue to use our talent to do so.

I would like to give a special shout out to the Black Student Union board and Emerson committee members involved in this show. The effort everyone put in was evident and well awarded. Hopefully this showcase will continue. I’m sure it will be remembered for a very long time.