Since George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, many Philadelphians have demonstrated publicly. On Monday evening, in the City Hall courtyard, a handful of performers will react to the Trayvon Martin case artistically.
Philly ReACTS will feature poets, storytellers, and singers, including city poet laureate Sonia Sanchez, tap dancer and storyteller Khalil Munir, and the children’s choir from the Freedom Theater.
Activist and jazz singer Ruth Naomi Floyd will put the Trayvon Martin case in the context of the African-American song tradition. Her song-lecture will use a quote by James Baldwin as a jumping-off point: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”
“Creating is fine, and that’s wonderful. Art is beauty and we all enjoy beauty,” said Floyd. “But when art is used to push people forward, to uncover the truth, and also to encourage the community and those that are struggling with the truth, it encourages them to stand up and see right from wrong, to see good from evil.
Philly ReACTS is produced by First Person Arts, an organization known for its Story Slams – competitive storytelling events held around the city – and an annual festival of memoir and first-person storytelling. The event on Monday evening is its first effort to stage an immediate and public response to a news event.
“There are plenty of people out there doing rallies, plenty of people that have petitions – and rightfully so, I don’t want to take away from the value of that,” said First Person Arts program manager James Claiborne. “We are not looking to duplicate that work. We are looking to give people a healthy, safe, positive environment in which they can communicate their feelings, and do so as a collective.”
The death of Trayvon Martin inspired the creation of Philly ReACTS, but it will not be the only subject of future events. Claiborne says the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage will fund three such events, and he is keeping his eye on the news to figure out what the next two will be about.