Artist’s perspective: performing in “Lift Every Voice”

Performing is cathartic for me. It’s how I let things out: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The act of writing a rap, of finding the right flow and the right lyrics to weave into the beat is only half of the expressive process. On stage, delivering my psyche for an audience — that’s where it really happens. Whether it’s a song about racial injustice or turning up at a party or being in love, I put my all into the performance with the intention of releasing my thoughts and emotions to make some kind of impact on the audience. Coming out of a live set sometimes feels like I’ve just run a marathon. I want my audience to feel like they’ve run that marathon with me.

I was honored enough to be a part of “Lift Every Voice”, a performing arts celebration in recognition of Black History Month. Last Wednesday night at Olde Club, a group of students, professors, and administrators alike came to witness performances by acclaimed poet Leah Jackson, Swat alum and dancer Leanna Browne ’15, and everybody’s favorite afroed guitarist Dakota Gibbs ’19. Ms. Jackson, a guest performer, delivered several powerful pieces on her experiences and struggles as a black woman that recalled the tragedies of recent instances of racial violence and oppression. At the end of the show she invited Browne to perform interpretive dance while audience member Simon Bloch ’17 beatboxed to back Ms. Jackson’s intense, rhythmic spoken word. It was a powerful, unifying moment to bring the show to a close, after Browne’s moving solo dance piece and Gibbs’ stunning guitar solo.

Being on stage with these talented artists was a privilege, and only hyped up my energy for my set. I performed four original songs, pertaining to subjects such as mental health, institutional racism, and love. It was a unique experience for me not only because I was performing in front of administrators and professors, but because I was participating in an event honoring a culture I love: black culture. I was able to show my love and support for Black History Month by expressing myself in a genre of music created by black people, a genre of music we are proud to call ours. One of my songs, “feel that,” is about the psychological impact that police brutality has had on me as a young man of color. When I performed it live for the first time, I wasn’t just “rapping,” I was adding my voice to the conversation on police brutality, on institutional racism, on what it is to be young and black in America. I wasn’t just expressing my feelings; my feelings were being heard, being felt.

“Lift Every Voice”, for me at least, was about coming together as a community and participating in art, about sharing a cultural experience in celebration of Afro-American history. I am proud to be one of those voices and to have been able to share my voice with others. Performing that night became more than just cathartic. It was validating.

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