On top of the great music on tap at Hi Harmony, here’s a sampling of who else you’ll hear from on August 16 at the Music Hall.
Since the Emanuel shooting, KJ Kearney, a middle school teacher and guest columnist for the City Paper, has been addressing the issue of Charleston’s race relations and community-building through his columns. Kearney’s June 24 column directly addressed Emanuel AME shooter Dylann Roof. “Dear Dylann,” he wrote. “You lost. Instead of tearing us apart, you actually brought us closer together.”
Kearney hopes to continue the message of community in his Hi Harmony speech. “I do think [the concert] will be a jumping-off point,” says Kearney. “I don’t know if that means that everyone there is going to be inspired to do similar things. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen but I do think it’s going to start a positive trend towards more inclusion.”
“I see it in a pragmatic light. If you think about any change, a lot of the time change is not brought about by those who are being oppressed,” says Kearney. “It definitely starts with us from the bottom, but real change is going to be made by people in control of things. So we have to keep fighting our fight.”
Kearney says that he wants people to walk away from the concert thinking less about themselves. “We want people to leave there thinking that there’s so much more to this city than ‘my block’ or ‘my neighborhood,'” he says. “I hope people leave with an expanded sense of what Charleston is and what it could be.”
In an interview with MSNBC right after the shooting, JA Moore, the half-brother of Emanuel AME victim Myra Thompson, admitted that he was discouraged. He didn’t think a vigil or demonstration could really bring about change. When asked about those words now, on the cusp of speaking at a unity event, he seems more hopeful. “I don’t think a speech or vigil will change someone’s mind but I think it’s good for healing. It’s a way for me to kind of heal,” he says. “It’s been really challenging. Pretty soon afterwards, it was hard for me to visit a church. I was tense. Normally, church has always been a place of great refuge. On a personal level, this will be healing for me.”
Moore, like Kearney, views society’s current race issues pragmatically. “Hatred and bigotry are learned habits that have been going on since the beginning of time, so I don’t think one person’s speech will change that. It will change with new generations; it will change with how diverse we all become as a society. Relationships between African-Americans and Caucasians are relationships that are becoming more prevalent. It’s gonna take time. These things don’t happen overnight,” he says.
Moore draws on memories from his childhood when discussing race relations today. “I’m from Hampton, S.C. When I was growing up, some of my best friends were Chad and Justin — they were two white kids. They were my best friends in kindergarten. Some of my fondest memories as an elementary school kid was Chad pushing me in the red wagon for a field day. That’s my fondest memory! As kids, most kids don’t see color. As we get older and it’s perpetuated on TV, with parents, other people, we get indoctrinated to hate people because of their skin,” he says.
Moore doesn’t have a set plan about what he’ll say in his Hi Harmony speech, but he stresses that he wants his words to come from a “real place.” “I don’t want it to be robotic or anything. I have a theme I want to talk about: Community is all about building relationships with people. I think that’s gonna be my overall approach to it — how music and harmony and community is about relationships,” he says.
Moore wants people to walk away with a better grasp on their relationships, new and old. “For everyone who comes there, even if it’s just building a stronger relationship with the person they came with, that’s what community and music is about, building relationships,” he says.
Director and Chief Curator of the Halsey Institute, Mark Sloan views Hi Harmony as a celebration of the kind of city Charleston is.
“We need each other. We need each other now. We’ve always needed each other and we’ll need each other in the future, but this is kind of an affirmation of the power and solace that one can get from knowing that we’re in this together and moving forward in a unified way,” he says.
Sloan says that Charleston stands out among all of the cities he’s lived in as a genuinely unified place. “I think that Charleston has a unique community in the sense that there’s a sense of caring — and it’s not just out of politeness. It’s a genuine interest in learning about other people, enjoying hearing what other people have to say, listening, communicating — and it’s not about irony or hipness,” he says.
Sloan doesn’t think that any particularly negative sentiments will come up at the concert, although he acknowledges that race relations in Charleston are a “work in progress.” “To me, there are two ways you can look at life. You can be the optimist or the pessimist. There are a lot of things wrong. We have a lot of work to do. We live in a place that is one of the most racially charged places on the planet, given its history. There are systemic things, education. There’s economic disparity. There are all these things that need to be addressed,” he says.
When asked what he wants attendees to walk away with, Sloan says that he’s keeping the pressure off of people — no one needs to leave entirely transformed. “I think it’s a lot to ask for a concert. It’s not intended to be a call to action. The fact is we do have work to do, and I think everybody knows that. We’re not preaching. I hope they come away thinking, ‘Wow, this town is full of kick-ass musicians,'” he says.
“I think what we’re doing is creating a set of possibilities for many good things to happen. We hope many good things will happen on the stage and between the audience and the musicians, and hopefully some of that will carry over into everyone’s lives in one way or another,” says Sloan.
“Generally, I’m speaking about the power of art and music to illuminate our best selves, our most connected selves,” says Kate Nevin, founder of the nonprofit Enough Pie. “Music and art bridges divides, because it bee lines to the soul.” Enough Pie makes little impacts on the community every day, hosting events that center around art, like artists’ talks, and communal gathering, like the weekly lunch they hold at one long picnic table at 1630 Meeting St.
Enough Pie had its own struggles with identity and community relations when it first launched in 2013, promoting events in predominantly African-American neighborhoods that mainly white people attended. The organization is still getting its bearings on the upper peninsula, where booming residential and industrial areas are quickly altering the urban environment. Their focus, though, is unwavering: community comes first.
Nevin believes that this concert will tap into feelings of belonging that people may not have known were there. “Music creeps right in to where we need it most, so the hope is that once it settles in, it cracks us open a little bit,” says Nevin. “We open ourselves to the world a little more. We open our hearts to the community a little more.”
While Nevin does not have a clear vision for the future of Charleston, she has a whole lot of hope. “This concert is such a beautiful gift to the community, and the most important thing we can do to honor that gift is take the harmony beyond the walls of Charleston Music Hall and out into the city so that that spirit of generosity lives beyond one evening,” she says.
Councilman William Dudley Gregorie
Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who is currently running for mayor, has a few well-formed ideas about what he plans to do for the arts if elected: he’s currently working on an amendment to the existing arts commission that he hopes will foster greater community participation. So it’s only fitting that he take part in this concert of unity.
“I think that Hi Harmony is an example of what we can do when artists come together as one,” says Gregorie. “I want it to be more inclusionary.”
Gregorie is a fan of what Hi Harmony is doing and would like to see more events like it happen in Charleston. He has some ideas about how he can change that. “I would like to identify a place where we can develop an art incubator where artists can come and create their art,” he says. He references the Torpedo Factory art center in Alexandria, Va., which, as its name suggests, is an old torpedo factory that’s been re-purposed as a space for artists and visitors.
Gregorie says he understands that music can unite a community, but he’s really looking forward to how different music can bring disparate parts of the city into one space. “I just think it’s a great idea for bringing people together,” he says.