Painters, poets and singers gathered at Peace Park Monday afternoon to support the citizens of Ferguson and protest recent events there. The four-hour artistic-expression event put on by Artists for Justice in association with the MU English Graduate Student Association brought together musical, spoken word, poetry, and dance acts from the Columbia community and beyond.
Kenneth Bryant, Jr., a graduate student and member of the Artists for Justice committee that planned the event, says the organizers wanted to do something different from the other Michael Brown-related rallies held in the past few weeks.
“We wanted to allow people to express their emotions in an artistic way,” said Bryant. “Historically, going back to the civil rights movement, artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and James Brown uplifted, empowered, and informed the black community and also brought our white brothers and sisters into the fold. Art articulated the spirit of that movement, and that’s something that hasn’t gone away.”
Bryant estimates about 160 people attended the event.
“I consider that a wonderful turnout,” Bryant said. “It was a successful event.”
Treasure Redmond, a native of Mississippi who now resides in St. Louis, performed poems and songs at the event.
“I think art and social change have always been intertwined,” said Redmond. “For people who want to express themselves in response to police brutality, the militarization of the police, and structural racism, events like this give them the opportunity to use their art in service to their beliefs.”
The shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson angered many parents, including Redmond, who pointed to her 13-year-old son during her performance and expressed concern that he could too easily meet the same fate.
“My message to Ferguson is ‘a luta continua,’ or ‘continue the struggle,’” said Redmond. “We’ve seen the issue of anti-black racism improve over the decades, and we’ve now reached the crunchy part of the bone. We’ve gotten rid of a lot of the overt racism. And now it’s time to get rid of not just ‘whites only’ signs and segregated schools but also health care and educational disparity, those things that are difficult and will take a united effort.”
There were 11 scheduled performances from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. There were also voting registration and kids’ activities booths.
High school art teacher Jessie Starbuck said she attended the demonstration out of concern for both recent events and the larger issues at hand.
“This is an issue we all need to talk about if we want things to improve,” Starbuck said. “You can’t separate art and artists from social issues. Artists are totally plugged into them.”
Painter Stacy Self brought a canvas and a plan for a “unity mural” of people holding hands to which everyone could contribute.
“I was inspired by peace, justice, and unity for all people, all colors, no matter what,” Self said. “I want to spread the imagery of love. It can happen if we visualize it.”
In addition to allowing artists to express themselves, the event served as an opportunity to show solidarity with the citizens of Ferguson.
“For us, it was important acknowledging what happened in Ferguson and acknowledging that the emotion is very real and raw here in Columbia,” Bryant said. “You are not alone. We acknowledge that what happened could happen anywhere. Fear still exists, unfortunately. We could be in your shoes at any point.”