As Black Lives Matter protests renewed national conversations about race over the summer, Black artists at UNC were trying to think about how they could use their respective mediums to process their emotions and send a message. Here are some of their stories.
'They'll say you're a Black radical'
This summer, as Justis Malker marched down the streets of Charlotte with one headphone in, music about Black life flooded his ear. In the other, he heard the sounds of protest. Those sounds have already begun to influence the music that he creates.
“It made me think about what art I value and what a legacy actually means,” Malker said. “If you're doing your job well, the stories you tell, the voices you amplify, the information you spread will hopefully live and last long beyond you.”
As he was protesting, Malker wasn’t initially inspired to pen verses about his experiences as a Black man. Instead, he wrote policy proposals for the Charlotte Police Department.
Eventually, however, the inspiration came. At the moment, Malker, a UNC Junior, is working on two separate projects. One is a solo project entitled, “Black Boys Below the Mason-Dixon,” which discusses the Black youth experience in the South.
“I feel like the South and the Black population of the South in particular have become an easy punching bag,” Malker said.
Malker hopes to release the project in February, in celebration of Black History Month.
The other project is a collaboration with friend and UNC Cypher President and senior Adam Dixon, entitled “Black Radicals,” which the two hope to release later this year.
“We would have conversations and we would make running jokes, saying something like 'defund the police,’ Malker said. “One of us might make a response like, 'You know you can't say that, man. They'll say you're a Black radical.’ That became something we embrace.”
While the project will have songs focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s important to Malker to create work showing Black life as more than plight.
“It's important that people not only spread and consume the parts focusing on some of the things we have to deal with, but also our talent, our being and our art in general,” Malker said.
'I’m a Black person always'
Dixon still remembers the song that inspired “Black Radicals.” A friend sent him a beat sampling “Wake Up” by Travis Scott and The Weeknd. Malker started freestyling over the beat, then Dixon crafted his own verse, which would go on to spawn the project.
Dixon has always been cognizant of the Black Lives Matter movement when creating music. It’s part of his identity, he says.
“My experiences, if they're negative or positive, they're obviously part of the Black experience, because I'm a Black person always,” Dixon said.
Dixon understands that there is no singular Black experience, though he thinks his own personal experiences help him relate to others.
“Overall, my experience has been one of privilege, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, because it allows me to see what other people experience and tie it into my own,” Dixon said.
Though events such as Cypher’s planned “Get Out the Vote” concert have been canceled, he thinks Black art still has a key role in keeping the momentum of the movement going this semester.
“If someone releases a song about the Black experience on campus and you can listen to it and talk about it and think about it, that's really important,” Dixon said.
In the end, what’s most important to Dixon is that people hear his message.
“If just one or two people hear my music and think about it critically, that's something,” Dixon said.
One thing that would help spread that message, Dixon said, is a stronger platform for Black artists on campus.
“We have some small group things, but the campus needs to give Black art a bigger platform that isn't there currently,” Dixon said.
Growing up in Fayetteville, senior Nick Hylton said he experienced microaggressions — but initially didn't understand their impact until he came to UNC, and met more people who looked and thought like him.
“I embraced the Black culture here because I saw people that were more like me,” Hylton said. “I see how they're fighting in the community for justice and against the oppression that's been happening.
Hylton has not been able to attend recent protests, but has found other ways to spread his message. One way he’s done so is by releasing a single, “Now,” on Soundcloud last month.
“It's about how there's never a better time to stand up and do something than right now, like fighting for all the people hurting in this country,” Hylton said.
He has also been working on a solo project, which he hopes to release later this year or in early 2021. A key aspect of the project is how the gospel can make waves, Hylton said.
“As I've gone farther along in my journey as a Christian, I see that God is about relationships,” Hylton said. “Because of things like racism and the flaws within us, our relationships are damaged. I think as we look at Jesus and his example, we can start to repair that and bring our people together.”
It’s because of that idea that he believes music is the perfect vehicle to spread the message of the movement.
“Music is so powerful,” Hylton said. “I think music is another language that is really used to relate and connect to things that are greater than us. As we get more music and art pushing for justice in the community and in support of Black Lives Matter, more people are reached and more people can feel what others are feeling.”
He says if the community supports and listens to Black voices, greater strides can be made.
“The more UNC supports Black voices, the more stories we can get, the more background we can get on people, the more attention these things will get,” Hylton said.
'It starts with listening'
Whenever senior Kierrah Glover sits down to paint, she has one goal in mind— to create positive representations of Blackness.
“Showing up for Black joy, Black love, Black self-recognition is my way of actively showing others that my Blackness has as many facets to itself as my art does,” Glover said.
Glover is especially trying to create positive representations of Black women in her work.
“My biggest hope is that my art would be a tool that is unifying for Black women of all shades and backgrounds, and a unifying force for people in general to have a better representation of what it is and what it looks like to be a Black woman,” Glover said.
Glover said she believes visual art opens a conversation.
“I feel like everyone can have a dialogue and exchange with art, despite race, despite gender,” Glover said.
Glover, a former member of the CUAB Art Committee, hopes to see more student groups support and amplify activist art.
“I think it starts with listening to the people that are most affected by this art, but also to the people that have experience or can relate to the type of art that's being put forth,” Glover said. “If we're talking about activism, hear the perspectives of not one person, but 15 different people.”
Whether she has a physical space to show her artwork this semester or not, the mission remains the same for Glover — to showcase and celebrate Black women.
“I dedicate so much time and dedication to my artwork as a way to promote self-love and admiration, for not only myself,” Glover said. “But for so many Black little girls, growing teens, Black women out there searching for a space to call their own, a space where they can be celebrated for all that they are and want to be.”
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