'Broadway for Black Lives Matter' Concert Rallies Artists, Actors

The 70th Annual Tony Awards
Audra McDonald and the cast of Shuffle Along at THE 70TH ANNUAL TONY AWARDS.John Paul Filo / CBS via Getty Images
By Ko Bragg

An awareness concert called "Broadway for Black Lives Matter" took place Monday night at Columbia University. Broadway stars, poets, and other musicians gathered to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the end to police brutality. Approximately 1,000 people registered for the free show co-sponsored by Columbia Law School and The Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective.

Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell began the show by thanking the “pack of youngins” who made the evening possible.

“This evening is a result of activism, of a desire to do something,” McDonald said.

McDonald and some of the other organizers have spent the last several months performing in a show called "Shuffle Along." She said that while doing that show, she and the other cast members witnessed the many disturbing acts in the present day world, and saw a need to amplify the voice for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

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Amber Iman was one of those "Shuffle Along” cast members, and she posted a Facebook status in early July urging the conscious Broadway community to finally speak out for black lives.

Iman's Facebook status sparked Broadway to action, and less than a month later this showcase came to fruition.

The lineup was diverse, but all united in using their platform to encourage more discussion, action, and education.

Ledisi and India Arie were two of the headliners of the night.

Joshua Henry, who has been cast as Aaron Burr in Hamilton Chicago, performed Langston Hughes’ “The Kids Who Die” to a moved crowd.

Damon K. Jones, the New York State Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America spoke about the dichotomy of being a black police officer. He spoke about incidents of black off-duty police officers being shot by white cops.

“We feel the racism in the police department,” Jones said, “And we get it both ways.”

Norm Lewis, who you may know as Senator Edison Davis from "Scandal," sat on the same panel with Jones, and contrasted the changing perception of police in America.

“I remember growing up that being a lawyer, being a doctor, being a policeman, and being a firechief, were really respected professions and they would come and speak to you at your schools,” Lewis said. “And I just don’t feel that respect anymore from the police. There seems to be no accountability.”

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Professor Frank Roberts gave context to the Black Lives Matter Movement. He teaches a course entitled, “Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Popular Protest” at New York University. He underscored that Black Lives Matter is a human rights movement that cuts into the existential question, which is, who gets to be counted as human?

Roberts said that the final characteristic of the Black Lives Matter Movement, is that it is an artistic endeavor.

“Artists have already been an important part of this story and of this movement,” Roberts said. “The question is not how can we get artists involved in this movement, it's recognizing their centrality right now and already.”

Overall, the audience left energized, and in alignment with its intended mission to “spark conversation and encourage people to discover their roles as active participants in a movement towards positive change.”