Standing in solidarity and using fine arts as the form of expression, a downtown Black Liberation Celebration brought people of all demographics together Saturday to support the African American community in a plea for justice among injustices taking place nationwide.
To liberate means to free from oppression, and while working towards it has been a long road, Illinois State University seniors Diana Bender and Kharisma Thomas said the celebration allowed African Americans to tap into their roots.
“It’s us using our voice and creative arts to express the knowledge of our history in how we decided to embody the crafts that were passed down to us throughout generations,” Bender said.
“It’s a re-ownership of our history and having our story told from us instead of taking the word of people who tell us what we should be, and what we’re limited to. It's us being in control of our own narrative,” said Thomas.
From singing hymns and dancing to the beat of a drum, the passion of each performance rang loud throughout the streets around downtown Bloomington on Saturday. It was organized by Zachary Gittrich, Trevin Gaffney, and Chynna Dee.
One artist, Darìus Williams aka Mac N Tosh, performed a song entitled “Black Boy,” which brought attention to the hardships he and others have faced throughout daily life.
“As Black men we’re taught to not be emotional. If something happens we’re taught to be hardcore and not to let the white man see us cry, so in this song I talked about the struggles I’ve endured as a Black man in America,” he said.
“From anxiety and depression to dealing with how the world views me, even if I think a certain way about myself, America has a contradiction to it. It’s like yeah I’m strong, but America’s like, ‘You’re strong but not really strong because of this, this, and that,’ so I talked about how that feels and at the end of the song I reclaimed strength.”
Music is universal and art is rooted in history. Thomas said to Black Americans, the form of expression is therapeutic for dealing with emotions from hardship.
“It’s a way of coping with our feelings and back in the day it was how our ancestors communicated,” she said. “Whatever story you want to tell, putting it in a song is the easiest way to reach people so they can feel how we feel, and it’s at the heart of us because it's what we always did.”
Amid increased attention to the injustices the Black community faces, many have expressed grief. For Thomas, seeing the images multiply have her feeling numb.
“Just because social media is dying down, this is life for Black people every day,” she said. “It’s a numbness for me now, and my initial response has been defeated because we’ve been doing this for 100-plus years and we still have to explain why our Black skin matters. Not because we’re humans, but because we’re Black humans,” she said.
When it comes to microaggressions and dealing with discrimination, Thomas said she’s dealt with the experiences in town firsthand.
“The racism in Bloomington isn’t necessarily overt but you get the stares, you get the clutched purses, and people who act like they’ve never seen brown in their life,” she said. “I’ve been followed around stores and my bag has been searched for no reason. So in Bloomington-Normal we need to have these celebrations because this is an area where Black people are coming from the city and we’re a part of the people bringing in commerce yet we get put off to the side. These types of things are important to let people know we are here.”
Marching through the streets with wailing calls for justice, performers and attendees stopped at the McLean County jail too.
Hoping for a brighter future, Dominique Stevenson said he wants change to come in all forms.
“Black liberation is us having access to equality,” said Stevenson, who performs as V8 Vast Change. “Us being liberated means everyone gets paid equally, people get hired for the jobs they deserve, and people are not getting overlooked. It’s a long list but equality is what liberation means to me.”
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