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Singer Alicia Keys shown onscreen at A&E Networks "Shining A Light" concert at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. She is shown with ABC newsman Byron Pitts, a Baltimore native, who accompanied her to his hometown where she met with children and mothers in the city's Penn North neighborhood. The concert and her visit are part of a three-hour special on race airing on A&E tonight.
Singer Alicia Keys shown onscreen at A&E Networks "Shining A Light" concert at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. She is shown with ABC newsman Byron Pitts, a Baltimore native, who accompanied her to his hometown where she met with children and mothers in the city's Penn North neighborhood. The concert and her visit are part of a three-hour special on race airing on A&E tonight. (Christopher Polk / Getty Images for A&E Networks)

The A&E networks are devoting three hours of prime time tonight to a concert and conversation about race. It's a conversation in which Baltimore plays a prominent role as a result of the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray.

Narration and commentary place Baltimore on an arc of cities that have taken on a larger symbolic importance as they have became sites of racial struggle during the last year.

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The telecast comes roughly one year after violent protests in Ferguson following the failure of a grand jury to indict the police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. It also arrives on the eve of the Nov. 30 trial of a Baltimore police officer indicted in Gray's death.

Ferguson and Charleston, S.C., where a white man shot nine black churchgoers, are also featured in the A&E telecast.

The first two hours features a concert filmed Wednesday night in Los Angeles titled "Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America."

The lineup of artists includes: Andra Day, Nick Jonas, Tom Morello, Smokey Robinson, Big Sean, the Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Jamie Foxx, Rhiannon Giddens, Tori Kelly, John Legend, Miguel, Pink, Jill Scott, Ed Sheeran, Sia, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Pharrell Williams.

The presenters are: LL Cool J, Marshall Faulk, Morgan Freeman, George Lopez, Mario Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Kurt Warner and Nick Young.

That's a lot of talent, but it's the third hour, which features the visit to Baltimore by Keys, as well as trips to Ferguson and Charleston by John Legend and Williams respectively, that gives the telecast an extra sense of social relevance to me. It's titled "Shining a Light: Conversations on Race in America." It starts at 10 p.m., and is worth setting the DVR.

"This is the story of the divided states of America, split along the faultline that runs from Charleston all the way through Ferguson and Baltimore," a narrator says setting the stage for the last hour.

Accompanied by ABC newsman Byron Pitts, a Baltimore native, Keys visits the The Kids Safe Zone, a converted laundromat that now offers a learning and play space plus three meals a day to children in the Penn North neighborhood that became the focus of unrest following Gray's death. There she talks to children and mothers and performs a version of "Someday We Will All Be Free."

Some of the hour's best moments come during a discussion she has with the children in which she asks them, "What are the tough parts of your neighborhood?"

"The violence," one boy says.

"Killing," says another child.

"Stabbing people in the head," a very young child says in  a voice so small Keys has to ask him what he said.

"Who are your heroes?" the singer asks the group.

"My father, because he used to take me everywhere I wanted to go," an older boy answers.

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"Used to?" Pitts says. "May I ask you where he is now?"

"Jail," the boy says.

The camera then shows Pitts and Keys driving through the city against a backdrop of bleak Baltimore imagery featuring abandoned rowhouses, liquor stores and garbage-strewn lots.

It's not a pretty picture.

"Alicia and I came here to Baltimore, B'more, my beloved hometown, now on a pace to hit its highest homicide rate ever," Pitts says in voiceover.

"Facts are: Life is hard is Baltimore," he tells her.

When she asks why, he cites the closing of Bethlehem Steel and the "introduction of crack cocaine" to the city.

"The city made international headlines in April," Pitts then says in voiceover, "when a young black man named Freddie Gray was filmed being manhandled by police before he died in their custody."

And the now oh-so-familiar citizen-made video with its audio track of Gray crying out in pain as he's being dragged to the police van fills the screen.

We have been reporting, writing and talking about it every day since on this website and in this newspaper.

The spotlight has been shining bright and the conversation has been going strong in Baltimore. Here's hoping efforts like that of A&E tonight make them even brighter and stronger.

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