‘Momentum’: Black artists and scholars offer hope, inspire action

Aug. 24, 2020, 7:07 p.m.

“The world as we knew it has been broken wide open,” said writer Roxane Gay as she stared ahead, perhaps imagining the many unseeable faces staring back at her, watching on their computer screens from somewhere, from everywhere. On Aug. 22, Gay was one of four speakers at “MOMENTUM: Sustaining Black Liberation Through Activism, Art, and Collective Care,” a Twitch-streamed event and the first installment in the Junior Class Cabinet’s series “Amplify, Advocate, and Uplift!” 

This first event was planned in collaboration with the Black Student Union, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Xi Beta Chapter and the Stanford Concert Network. Alongside Gay, the other three speakers were Clayborne Carson, a professor of American history and the founding director of Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Education and Research Institute; Bree Newsome, a multimedia artist and activist; and Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, as well as a contributor to NBC News and MSNBC. 

“The title ‘Momentum’ was rooted in the desire to maintain both the external and internal momentum of the Black Liberation movement,” wrote Celine Foster ’21 and Mea Anderson ’21, the president and the membership chair of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Xi Beta Chapter, respectively, in a response to The Daily.

“Given the current climate, in which racial tensions have been exacerbated by police brutality and a global pandemic that is disproportionately harming Black people and Black communities, we are in a unique moment that could advance the fight against antiBlackness in an unprecedented manner,” Foster and Anderson continued.

While the world grapples with multiple crises (economic, health and social), community organizers and activists work to implement positive change on the local level. At Stanford, for example, students have fundraised for the University’s laid-off service workers and rallied for the departmentalization of the African and African American Studies program, paralleling global efforts to support frontline and essential workers, and promote racial justice in education. “Momentum,” too, had a cause: Throughout the event, attendees were encouraged to donate to the King Institute in support of the #StandWithKing campaign, which seeks to make the institute a fundraising priority for the University. 

“The King Institute’s substandard funding is a representative case of the very anti-Blackness we hope to advocate against and expunge from a university that falls short of adequately supporting Black students, faculty, and staff time after time,” wrote Mohammad Gumma ’22, the co-president of the Black Student Union. “It is our hope that our allies amplify the message of the campaign, donate to the King Institute and rally behind its mission, and honor Dr. Carson for his leadership and scholarly contributions.”

“Given the other advocacy work that our organizations have been doing, including the Justice for Black Lives Fundraiser and the Stand With King campaign, it was important for us to consider how to maintain that momentum as individuals and as organizations,” Foster and Anderson wrote. “This type of work can lead to burnout and retraumatization, which Bree Newsome Bass and Dr. Roxane Gay both touched on in their speeches.”

During the event, Newsome, well known for scaling a pole outside of South Carolina’s statehouse and removing the Confederate flag, spoke first, offering advice for youth organizers. “You can step away and do what you need to do to replenish yourself,” she said.

Next was Alcindor, who has — on many occasions — come into conflict with President Trump at news briefings where he has attempted to dodge or dismiss her questions. In the face of difficult situations, Alcindor encouraged those in attendance to “know your life’s purpose” and “press forward.”

The third speaker was Gay, who talked about her years of experiences on college campuses, as a student, a professor and an esteemed guest. “The issues we see on college campuses are symptoms of what ails the world well beyond the ivory tower,” she said. 

Then, she spoke to how the present feels so uncertain, so chilling, but there are reasons to hope. “This moment is an opportunity,” she said. “I may be invisible, but I will never be silent.” 

The last speaker of the night was Carson, who talked about how young people have spearheaded recent protests for racial equality, and the ways in which change is happening across communities, big and small, including Stanford. “Black Lives Matter has made the King Institute matter,” he said, noting that the institute has “[raised] more money in the last few months than in the last three years.”

Threaded between the speeches were student performances by Angel “Ace” Marie ’21, Alexa Luckey ’21, Tamilore Awosile ’23 and Arielle Williams ’21, known by the stage name “DJ Sugar Trap.” 

“We decided to intersperse the guest speeches with student performances because we recognize that conversations around antiBlackness and trauma can be draining and require a wealth of emotional energy,” Anderson wrote. “Thus, we wanted to provide the audience a space of healing and rejuvenation while simultaneously supporting Black artists and their art.”

“It was incredible to use submissions from speakers and student artists to concretize a rich emotional history through a digital medium,” wrote Marlon Washington II ’22, the event’s video editor, in an email to The Daily.

Awosile performed a saxophone solo, culminating his set by playing “Hymn (for Trayvon Martin)” by Braxton Cook, then singing lyrics he wrote to accompany the instrumental track. Ace, a member of the artist collective “Esoteric Creations,” performed several experimental, pop-rap songs, including a record off of the group’s recent album “Blood Orange.” Luckey performed the extended version of her song “Be Me,” which begins with a sample of the famous singer-songwriter Nina Simone, saying: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me.” The last student performer of the night, DJ Sugar Trap, closed the event with a mix of upbeat, dancey hits, from the early 2000s to the present day.

“As I watched the performances yesterday, I felt connected to each of the artists as they told their truths and their stories through jazz, through lyrics, through movements, through choice of song-all different mediums creating the same sense of togetherness,” wrote Sierra Porter ’22, co-president of Black Student Union.

For the nearly 150 audience members, some of whom sent messages through the chat feature to thank the speakers, performers and organizers, it seems “Momentum” was both healing and vitalizing. 

“This was awesome!!” one Twitch user wrote as the event neared its end. “I’m inspired and confident our future will be fine in the hands of the next generation represented by these young kings and queens. Lean in and press forward.”

Contact Chasity Hale at chashale ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Chasity Hale is the Vol. 259 managing editor of The Grind. She is a senior, studying communication and creative writing. Contact Chasity Hale at chashale ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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