Kobang, Kwei-Armah, Whitehead, other arts leaders weigh in on Gray's impact

'If I have a voice, I'm morally obligated to speak for my people,' says Kondwani Fidel

Here's what Baltimore artists and administrators have to say about what Freddie Gray's death meant to them. In many instances, the unrest sparked change in their work or at their organizations.

Judah Adashi

The Baltimore-born composer says of "Rise," his work for chorus and orchestra:

"The piece is about the civil rights movement, from Selma to the present 'and beyond.' On the day of the premiere in D.C., April 19, 2015 [the day Gray died], the 'beyond' became Baltimore. The piece was not connected to Freddie Gray, but took on new meaning, and my wish to bring the piece to Baltimore took on new urgency."

Another piece by Adashi, "The Beauty of the Protest," will be premiered on Tuesday's concert at Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church. He says:

"It's shorter, an 8-minute piece for solo cello; the cellist also sings as part of the piece. It was inspired not by the [Freddie Gray] events themselves, but by the stunning photographs of Devin Allen. His images covered everything, the good and the bad. In an interview he said he wanted to capture 'the beauty of the protest.' That line really stuck with me."

Kwame Kwei-Armah

The Center Stage artistic director on his decision to mount playwright Dominique Morisseau's "Detroit '67" during the one-year anniversary of the unrest:

"It's a play that echoes the very thing that happened to Freddie Gray and across America in the past 12 months. Choosing this play is our way of contributing to the conversation. Ultimately, 'Detroit '67' is a play of hope, and that is really fitting for Baltimore and the anniversary.

"I wouldn't produce a play called 'Baltimore '15,' because something like that would be too on-the-nose. Looking at another city and a previous time becomes a metaphor I think our patrons will respond to.

"I have a photo on my office wall of the demonstrators walking past Center Stage two or three days [after the riots]. It stopped the tech rehearsal of 'Marley.' Everyone ran out to see it. That will always be right at the heart of my sense of what theater is here to do."

Fred Bronstein

Says the dean of the Peabody Institute:

"I see us as having an obligation and a commitment to being more open to the community. That is not specifically a response to the uprising. The things we are doing with diversity and community we were already doing, but the anniversary reinforces why it's really important. It gives a greater urgency to it.

"We are looking inside the institution, which has a long, uneven history when it comes to inclusiveness. That is not unique to Peabody. We're trying to change our part of the industry.

"We've put together a large diversity task force of faculty, students, alumni and volunteers to address the long-term question of what we can do to make progress in this area.

"Our students need to learn that the community has to be an extension of the classroom."

 

Karsonya Wise Whitehead

The assistant professor of communictions at Loyola University is the author of the soon-to-be-published “RaceBrave,” a book of poetry, essays and stories inspired by the unrest. 

“People are trying to find a creative outlet that will help them understand what happened.”

“Freddie Gray’s death became a symbol for all the frustration that people had been feeling for a long time.”

“Suddenly, there was a language for that frustration and suddenly there was a name. Michael Brown lived in Ferguson. Eric Garner was in New York. Freddie Gray was one of our own, and it became very important to name what was happening in our city. All that tension came to a head, and the only way it could be expressed was by writing a song or throwing a rock.”

Lor Chris

On "#Justice4Freddie," Chris raps:

"Took him from his family, they should have just cuffed him.

"Then they had the nerve to do it in front of the public.

"It could have been you, it could have been me.

"That's why I'm standing tall, protesting on these streets."

  

Kondwani Fidel

Says the spoken-word poet and teacher:

"I have a poem called 'Welcome to America,' that addresses police brutality. I'm a black man, and if I have a voice, I'm morally obligated to speak for my people. After Freddie Gray was arrested, I felt even more obligated. I live in Batimore. That could have been me. That could have been my cousin. There's an anger in me that will never die.

"After Freddie died, the way I talk to youth changed. A lot of the things we learn in school don't deal with our reality, though it took me until my freshman year of college to realize it. If I have a platform I'm going to tell these kids the stuff that their teachers can't tell them."

 

 

Tate Kobang

The East Baltimore rapper on why he perceives fellow musicians making songs about Gray's death as self-serving:

"[Rappers] are trying to get views and likes off that. But [this] is serious. That's somebody's son. That's somebody's father, and [rappers] are treating that [stuff] as an opportunity, which is sad."

 

Hollis Robbins

The director of the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University and chair of the Department of Humanities at the Peabody Institute:

"Social crisis has produced some of the best American poetry we read. The importance of teaching the poetry of protest and outrage in schools is that people have an understanding that art is not always just to uplift but also to document injustice, to protest, to voice outrage. Individuals can turn to these works as models for distilling outrage into a communicable form, to reach an audience, to create a community. The impulse to turn outrage into art should be encouraged by all of us."

 

Paul Meecham

Says the president and CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra:

"Our immediate response was doing the peace concert in front of the Meyerhoff within 36 hours of the unrest. And musicians played chamber music outdoors just outside the CVS store after the riots. The musicians have continued to initiate a number of things, including chamber concerts at the Pennsylvania Avenue branch of the Enoch Pratt Library this spring.

"Institutionally, we are doing more. We are giving a concert at Bethel A.M.E. Church in West Baltimore. [On May 6, the church choir will join the orchestra in some of the selections]. We have rekindled our relationship with the Soulful Symphony. We have formed a diversity inclusion committee on the BSO board, which we haven't had before. Some of these things may have happened anyway, but they have been approached with increased urgency."

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