Early morning. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. And to keep paraphrasing Nina Simone, “I’m feelin’ good.”
Ahead of me, in some 7 hours from now, is our second annual benefit concert for my dear friend Kofi Gbolonyo’s dream school in Dzodze, Ghana. We helped raise enough money for the Nunya Academy last year to build the first floor and now we’re aiming for the second. And we’re doing it in the most wonderful way possible—playing music of the African diaspora with 15 Middle School kids and assorted adults. It’s a two-way philanthropy. We get to share the things we’re good at—economic muscle to build things—and they get to share the things they’re good at—an extraordinary repertoire of music and dance that stirs the soul and gets the spirit singing. Good stuff.
Behind me is my Dad’s birthday. Had he lived ten more years, we would be 99. A shame he wasn’t around to meet great-granddaughter Zadie, whose 6th birthday was yesterday, and Malik, who suddenly is talking full sentences as a toddler of 2.
And also behind is the horror of this time last year and the way this concert helped me and so many from going down the rabbit hole of utter despair and hopelessness. I wrote an intro. to the concert then and revised it to be spoken today. As follows:
We need music every day of our lives. Music is what energizes us, calms us, consoles us, shares our joy, awakens us from our slumber, connects us to ourselves and our fellow human beings.
But some days, we need music more than anything. This past year for many of us has been one of those times. This time last year, so many of us wondered how we were going to survive what just went down, how to keep our little candle of hope lit and our courage strong. Amidst the work of signing petitions, writing letters, organizing around issues, walking door-to-door to talk to folks, we could find strength by turning to the people who have been down this path so many times and for so long and always, always managed to rise up singing. All music is necessary and powerful and beautiful, but the music of the African diaspora gives us that something extra, that story of people who struggled against impossible odds and kept themselves alive and vibrant through music, kept themselves together and connected with music. Getting these pieces ready for today, I felt the ancestors in every note reminding me that they are there with us, they got our back, they’re there to catch us when we fall down and lift us back into the dancing ring.
The ancestors are behind and the children are in front and that’s a happy combination. Here we have a school dedicated to decades of quality music education, coming together to support yet another such place across the sea in the village of Dzodze, Ghana. It’s an important step toward reparations and restorative justice. We have received so much beauty and joy and happiness from the music of the African diaspora and how have we paid them back? Not well. You know the story. We stole some 10 million people from that Continent, depleting their human resources so we could get rich off of their unpaid labor. And our culture also grew rich, people all over the world admiring us for the music that grew here, the sports, the literature, the extraordinary crusades for social justice, all children of the African genius, resiliency and perseverance. And yet most Americans remain woefully ignorant, unable to look at the bad and the ugly and know who to thank for the good and the beautiful.
So just reparations means knowing their stories, thanking them and looking for opportunities to use our privilege to pay back all the gifts we have received for free. And not from mere guilt or shame, but from the pleasure of singing, dancing and playing this music and bringing our whole selves to keep it alive and growing. That’s why we’re here. And when we do that work, how do we feel? Well, here come Emma and Paris to testify with a Nina Simone song. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life. And we’re feelin’ good.