Over 50 years ago more than 400 Black and White Americans challenged racism and segregation by traveling together on buses and trains through the Deep South. On August 28, that legacy lives on through the “Black Lives Matters Ride” (BLM Ride) which hopes to attract hundreds of people from across the U.S. to St. Louis, MO as part of a movement to address police violence and racism in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown. At the core of its strategy this weekend is the use of arts and culture to create a space for healing and the pursuit of justice.
“Black people are a culture people and always utilize art,” said Patrisse Cullors, co-organizer of BLM Ride. “We don’t watch—we are art. Everybody on this ride is almost 100% artists of all disciplines.”
Cheeraz Gormon, a poet and visual artist, who is also coordinating the BLM Ride, believes that the response to use arts and culture is a natural extension for St. Louis. On Sunday August 24, approximately 50 artists came together at the local Regional Arts Commission building to explore ways that the arts could be a force for change following Brown’s murder.
“We have conferences all the time about how arts can save lives and how to become more involved as community artists. This is part of the culture in St. Louis,” said Gormon.
Gormon created her own spoken word piece heard here and numerous other artists have responded including Chuck Crittenden, who created sound art by recording protesters in Ferguson; artist Dail Chambers is creating a quilt made of materials donated by local residents; and Mallory Nezam is one of the leaders of #ChalkedUnarmed, a public art project that includes bodies outlined on sidewalks with identifying information on unarmed Black men who have killed by police officers.
One of the central cultural activities planned this weekend involves a traveling studio that will record people expressing their thoughts through music about state violence against people of color. This component of the project is being spearheaded by L.A. based cultural architect, Damon Turner.
“In our generation we respond to hip-hop and spoken word. Music is a powerful means to get folks on the same page and spiritually aligned with the mission and cause at hand which is justice for all.”
Included on the list of national demands being distributed this weekend are demilitarization of law enforcement; reducing the law enforcement budget and redirecting those funds to community programs; and justice for the family of Michael Brown and other similar victims.
BLM Ride, which was organized in about two short weeks with local partners, Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), has no set long-term strategy in place to ensure its demands are met. Instead they are allowing the process to unfold organically similar to Occupy Wall Street.
“It is ever-growing and developing. Folks mobilized very fast. So we are exploring how to use this as an opportunity to strengthen our national voice and make sure we are connecting with folks on the ground in St. Louis,” said Turner. “We want to make long-term partnerships and serve as a model for how we mobilize with other cities.”
In the meantime BLM Ride is focused on spreading the word and attracting as many artists as possible to its cause.
“If you go back and look at Black artists during the Black Power movement like James brown and Nina Simone they all talked about White supremacy,” said Cullors. “It does a disservice when Black artists don’t use power to shift cultural narratives. So I think every Black artist needs to be part of this.”
The weekly column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.