Last Friday, the 826 Valencia crew set sail for the Tenderloin District to celebrate Black History Month with our friends at the Tenderloin After-School Program (TASP). Every year, TASP hosts the African American Festival to educate students and community members about cultural competency. This year, through a new partnership with 826 Valencia, our staff and volunteers also worked with the TASP students to help them brainstorm a theme, rehearse acts, and organize the festival. Inspired by recent national events, this year’s festival had the theme #blacklivesmatter and featured media clips, skits, spoken word poetry, dance and rap performances, and a student-produced documentary.
The student MCs opened the event with a moment of silence in memoriam of those who have fallen victim to police brutality. Photos of the victims were interspersed between quotes from various high–profile African Americans:
“Heavy heart, angry soul… we matter. ALL our lives matter. Hear us, feel us, respect us… ALL.” —Gabrielle Union, actress
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” —Malcolm X, activist
“Hate: it has caused a lot of problems, but it hasn’t solved one yet.” —Maya Angelou
A few student-curated video clips introduced the festival’s theme. These included an overview of the events surrounding Michael Brown’s shooting and a Time magazine video titled Am I Next? which portrayed the Ferguson protests through the eyes of a teenager.
The videos were followed by a moving performance piece. As one student read a narrative about the gravity of discrimination, a group of students carrying poster boards filed onto the empty stage. Each student was dressed in black, with the exception of one who was clad in a vivid red. At the end of the narrative, they raised their poster boards simultaneously, revealing the sentence: “The colors we are and wear do not define us!” The result was powerful and viscerally felt.
In the second half of the show, the audience was treated to a few musical numbers, including two songs and a rollicking dance choreographed by students and set to hits by superstars like Michael Jackson and Beyoncé.
Students reflected on peaceful ways to resolve conflict in a skit that envisioned how an encounter between a police officer and a convenience store burglar would play out if they engaged in discussion and negotiation rather than violence.
The festival closed with a short documentary in which the students interviewed passersby in downtown San Francisco about Michael Brown’s shooting and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, MO. They found that many San Franciscans only had a passing knowledge of these events and the debates about race and police brutality that have sprung out of them. The student interviewers asked those familiar with the cases and protests to reflect on them and share their opinions, and educated those who hadn’t heard about the events before.
We are so grateful to the students and staff at TASP for welcoming us to the Tenderloin and sharing their celebration with us!