Artists Call To Action
On February 26, 2012 the life of a young son, friend, student, and football player was taken away in Sanford, Florida. We now know him as Trayvon Martin. On that same day a criminal justice student, son and community member's life was also changed forever. We now know him as George Zimmerman. Family members grew distraught as the death of Martin went relatively unnoticed for weeks until they contacted Al Sharpton to help them tell the world about what had happened. With the accused Zimmerman walking free, activists and artists alike began to respond.
I heard of the case one day when I was on Twitter. I checked out the trending topic and it was #TrayvonMartin. I then rushed to my Facebook page and got the report that a teen was shot while he was leaving a 7-eleven with Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea. I was stunned. I looked at all of my friends status', artists and activists, and wondered why none of the artists I adored were taking action. This led me to the question: What is the role of an artist in relation to tragedy in our community? Do we have a responsibility to speak for those who cannot?
Myself and some like minded friends, Kelly Girod and Erin Cherry, facilitated an artist, activist, educator, and creator "role call" that brought out many people who wanted to explore issues, questions, and creation surrounding the Martin case. We called the gathering Trayvon Martin: A Call to Action. During this spirited four hour event, we gathered a panel of artists and activists, including: Keith Beauchamp, Brian Jones, Dominique Morisseau, Shaun Neblett, and moderator Bridgette Antoinette Jones. They began by giving their reactions and reflections on the topic. Each panelist spoke of their frustrations with the current judicial system and the lack of awareness in our community surrounding cultural diversity. Concluding the session we broke the audience up into small focus groups to brainstorm and discuss ways that artists could respond to the crime.
What is the role of an artist in relation to tragedy in our community? Do we have a responsibility to speak for those who cannot?
Even though Zimmerman was taken into custody, I was and am still unnerved about the role fear plays in our world. I am burning with a renewed revolutionary fire seeing that people are taking action into their own hands—first graders organizing on the playground, town hall meetings, hoodie marches all over the country, and multiple YouTube tributes honoring young Trayvon.
I believe that artists play a powerful role in our society. It is easy to get caught up in the vanity and validation of our craft, but I hope we all remember our role as griots, as storytellers, and give breath and light to the stories of our time.
Erin Washington is currently an Allen Lee Hughes New Play Producing Fellow in the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. She graduated from Florida A&M University with an BA in Theater and later received her MFA in Acting from American Conservatory Theater where she grew her passion for the arts. In 2009, Erin started Soul Productions, a production company that exposes urban communities to emerging independent artists who are pioneering new approaches to music, theater, and film. #NEWPLAY!