In June, I work up one morning in a rage - mad at the world, mad at the number of Black and Brown bodies laying in the streets, mad that as a Broadway actress I felt powerless. I wrote a now infamous Facebook post, as a call to action to my community:
"There's Broadway for Trader Joe's, Broadway for Shark Week, Broadway for Thanksgiving...... Where's Broadway for Black Lives?"
Immediately, my text messages and inbox were flooded. This scared the mess out of me. I realized for the first time ever, that I may actually have to do it myself, that I might actually have to be the change. I had no event planning experience, no money, no anything! All I knew is I wanted to host some kind of Broadway community event...but I wanted more than just a bunch of people singing. I wanted a night of words, music, and information. Ben Vereen said to me a while back, "Artists have an incredible power to bring people together, all people!" I wanted to do that. I wanted to cultivate a space to mix artists with activists, NYPD with clergymen, political reformists and community leaders - an opportunity for young and old, black and white, straight and gay and all in between to come together with an opportunity to ask questions, and learn, and sing, and lift our voices, and leave with the knowledge of what can I DO to help make the movement MOVE!
"Broadway for Black Lives Matter" took place on August 1, 2016, at Columbia University and it was more than I could've ever imagined! With the help of a group of young, like minded artists (known as the "Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective"), and sponsorship from "Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids" and Lefon Productions, we planned this monster of an undertaking in just under 3 weeks. We reached out to friends, strangers, loved ones, whoever would listen, and made the dream a reality. The evening featured appearances and performances by India Arie, Ledisi, Broadway Inspirational Voices, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Daniel Beaty, Billy Porter (to name a few). In addition to the dance, music, and spoken word performances, there were panel discussions featuring NYPD officers, actors, playwrights, policy reformists, and community activists. Dr. Frank Roberts, the first Professor to teach a syllabus on "Black Lives Matter" at NYU gave a speech to help us understand the history of BLM, what it means, and to debunk myths about what it stands for. A group of 24 kids and teenagers, called "The Runaways" performed pieces they wrote about growing up as kids of color who are also gay, transgender, or just angry and scared living in today's world. The event was free to the public (but registration was required due to limited capacity) and the 1200 seats sold out in 79 minutes. It was live streamed and received over 6,000 views from people as far away as Africa and Australia. The event was covered by NBC News, CentricTV, Playbill.com, The New York Times, BroadwayBlack.com and more.
It started out as a very small idea, with no money - just a desire to help, to create change in my community, to encourage other young artists like me that you can DO. It was one of the first times in my life that I felt like I mattered, and had the power to help make this world just a little bit better. After the event ended, and some much needed time off, the real work began. What started as the "Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective" evolved into the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. With communication and collaboration with our community, we aim to work towards positive social change by bridging the gap between artistry and activism.
Catch some gorgeous pics and footage below from "Broadway for Black Lives Matter" event, and stay tuned for more from the Broadway Advocacy Coalition.