Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the number of people in attendance.
By Raye Weigel
Two months ago, community members and students gathered in a dimly lit room in a house near the University of Maryland’s campus to discuss an arts event to bring together all mediums in support of marginalized groups. They created the group Art Takes Action.
On Friday, their vision came to life in a lively benefit concert called The Freedom Fair at the Black Cat in D.C. featuring Downtown Boys, Two Inch Astronaut and Loi Loi. All of the proceeds from the event were donated to the ACLU.
The concert room was filled with people milling around looking at exhibits such as the Free Speechachu Game and gathering around the small spoken word podium at the opposite end of the room serving as the stage.
Brandon Blue, a graduate from this university, performed poetry about action, self-love and reflection. He said he has been doing poetry since a young age and that what he loves about it is its brevity: “the art of taking something large and make it comprehensible,” he said.
Blue performed early in the night, and said, though people were still arriving and it was a bit chaotic, “everybody here is for the right reason.”
Another poet was also from this university. Andrew Eck, a senior English major, sings and writes poetry. He said he thought the event was important because “we needed something unifying, especially with the arts. Something to show we can be reunited and happy together.” In his poetry, Eck said he hopes to inspire, unite and strengthen his audience on the principles of change, love and action.
Guest speakers stepped on stage between band performances and, showered in soft pink light, spoke about the necessity of a variety of issues including freedom of the press, education and open conversation. A small array of booths offered information about individual rights, such as protesters’ rights, the First Amendment and the right to dress in any way.
Kendrick Holley, community engagement manager with the ACLU, lifted his arms and told the audience with an unwavering voice that he was at the event to offer advice to anyone who wants to take action. He said students have a unique opportunity to unite for change.
“Everyone’s within arms reach,” he said. “It’s an amazing gift. There’s a lot of fire and a lot of passion in those student bodies . . . if you can take all that energy and find a creative way in which to manifest it in something that matters, there’s no force that can beat it.”
Lauren Poluha, a music teacher at Towson University, began to teach differently after the election. She said she focuses on racist and bigoted parts of American history, such as minstrel shows.
“In order to really evolve as a society and go forward, we have to look at these ugly parts of our past and we have to understand them.”
Poluha emphasized the importance of discomfort and the courage to have challenging conversations about political issues, a theme that ran throughout the event as more than 650 people swayed to music and talked about what 2017 will bring.
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Raye Weigel is a junior multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.