Open Spectrum Community Dialogues – Faces of Resistance: Young, Organized & Unified #FORYOU


On Monday, September 28th, at 7:30 p.m., New York Live Arts will host the first of a series of Open Spectrum Community Dialogues, produced in association with MAPP International Productions. Culturebot, as critical partner, reached out to each participant to publish contextual essays both prior to and post dialogue, and we are also offering our platform as a space for public response. The following is a poetic essay from one of the participants, Baba Israel, and a curatorial note from Rasu Jilani.

I have been reflecting on the problematic responses to Black Lives Matter  from some white folks out there online, in person, and and at the recent rally in Seattle…

When we as white people are
impatient defensive patronizing condescending dismissive
when Black Lives Matter interrupts
our comfort
our security
our agenda
our belief system
our time
our vacation
a workshop
a rally
we are denying the truth that sits in black bodies that are targets
that have been targets
that know an experience that we watch from afar
that we have seen on a show
a social media post
witnessed in lived experience
even in the quiet conversation of lovers and partners
it cannot be in our bodies
it does not sit in our experience
when we feel confusion frustration impatience even anger
yet choose to listen
to breathe
to contemplate before we speak or sometimes choose not to speak
we spark radical possibility
I would like to explore in our upcoming conversation the role that art making, music, theatre and performance play at this critical moment in our country and what the opportunities are for intersections between organisers, artists, journalists, and educators. As a white person I also want to be available to explore the tensions and opportunities across racial lines. When can I be an ally, when do I step back, and where do I step up? I am developing a series of new pieces that look to specifically engage with white folks on the topic of racial justice and Black Lives Matter. The poem above is the first piece and I am looking forward to the dialogue being a catalyst for the continued development of this work.
Baba Israel

My name is Rasu Jilani and I am an activist. As far as I can remember I have been driven by my empathic nerve to connect with people on a basic human level. However – through our everyday lives, capitalism, and proliferation of politics affecting the way we share and view the news – I believe most of us have been disconnected from this consciousness. I mean, let’s look how Fox News, CNN and MSBC has found subversive ways to over-politicize the simple notion that ‘Black Lives Matter’ to leverage ratings; or how popular anchors like Wolf Blitzer and Sean Hannity use their platform for grilling activist rather than empowering their voices. There is also a recent case of a Kentucky court clerk, Kim Davis, who is being revered by some for her religious-stance not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, yet has been the epitome of hypocrisy with three divorces, herself. This further illustrates a lack of empathy and the expression of entitlement of one people vs the marginalization of another.

I would have to say the seed of my social consciousness began in the late 80s. In 1989, Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” video in response to Spike Lee’s film “Do The Right Thing,” in the midst of the rising racial tension in NYC due to the death of Yusef Hawkins, had a profound effect on the way I see art, community organizing and its impact on communities. Yusef Hawkins could have been me – he was only a few years older than me, and it was the first time it sank in that I could be a victim of police brutality or a racial crime. This sparked a consciousness of empathy for someone I had not already known – which is the notion of seeing yourself in someone else’s struggle. As for “Fight The Power”, it was the first time that I can recall seeing socially engaged artists rally a community, redirecting the energy to honor our heroes, awakening a collective celebration, and creating an artistic product as a result. This seminal Hip Hop moment in my pre-teen years has influenced my approach to including communities as a critical piece to my practice as a social sculptor, community organizer and art producer.

With this first panel of the Open Spectrum series, Faces of Resistance: Young, Organized & Unified panel, I am curious to what drives these activists to do what they do. What are the issues they are currently organizing around? How and where do they convene? And what are some methodologies and practices that can be shared for the audience members to take away? And ultimately, what does victory look like?”

Rasu Jilani, Director of Community Programs, MAPP International Productions

This first of five season-wide events in New York Live Arts’ Open Spectrum series of community dialogues is dedicated to recognizing the current creative and social resistance movements in America responding to everything from Police Brutality to Mass Incarceration to Mass Deportation. Faces of Resistance: Young, Organized & Unified (#FORYOU) is a public forum that serves as a gathering of trailblazers who have started various movements in response to injustice in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and The Dominican Republic. #FORYOU is intended to take the audience and participants on an inquiry-based journey through the questions: Who are the people behind these movements? What prompted their responses? How do they convene? What are some practices we can share to organize? What does victory look like?

The dialogue will be moderated by Grace Ali, Founder/Editorial Director, Of Note magazine, with Baba Israel, Writer/Performer/Hip Hop Activist, Allen Kwabena Frimpong, Black Lives Matter, Niegel Smith, Willing Participant & Flea Theatre, Jamillah Lemieux, Journalist at Ebony Magazine, Beatrice Anderson, Harriet’s Apothecary and Ayiti Ressurect.

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