T.I. and Gina Belafonte promote star-studded music extravaganza to protest police brutality and gun violence
Two-day festival stars Chris Rock, Usher, Dr. Cornell West, T.I., Public Enemy and Harry Belafonte, many others
Words by Jimmy Tee
He has already ascended to legendary status in the ATL. But now rap impresario Clifford “T.I.” Harris Jr. has graduated from merely a Grammy-winning, platinum-producing superstar in hip hop. He is seen as one of the celebrity vanguards for a sociopolitical movement that has gripped the nation after the inexplicable spate of police killings of mostly unarmed black men and women.
This hip hop heavyweight and star of the hit reality show “The Family Hustle” has already joined the likes of rapper Killer Mike and singer Usher to put portions of their money into a black-owned bank to inspire the black masses to develop cultural unity that will translate into real viable power.
So it makes sense that he would join another legend, Harry Belafonte, and more specifically his daughter, Gina Belafonte, in promoting the inaugural musical and art extravaganza, “Many Rivers to Cross,” that will feature a constellation of superstars from multiple artistic genres on Oct. 1-2, 2016.
The Many Rivers to Cross event was produced by Sankofa.org, the social justice organization founded by Harry Belafonte. He will be joined by the likes of Chris Rock, Carlos Santana, John Legend, Usher, T.I., Danny Glover, Macklemore, Dianne Reeves, Jesse Williams, Public Enemy, Dr. Cornell West, Dave Matthews and many others. Atlanta was chosen because of its rich history with the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The fact that it is in Atlanta makes it more special,” Tip Harris said, who added that he will bring his family out to witness this unprecedented spectacle. “But whatever the messaging and the platform makes it special for me to be a part of it. It could have been anywhere and I would have made myself available to be a part of it. I’m just ecstatic to be here to assist in the efforts of so many leaders, activists, political leaders, artists, performers and just people who share the same enthusiasm with different voice, even with different approaches. But we share the same goals in mind about people.”
Belafonte said she chose to put on this festival because she is furthering the legacy and vision of her legendary father, and actor and activist, who was a major participant in the Civil Rights Movement.
“I come from a family of activists. And I got involved because … it’s my job,” Belafonte said. “And it’s in my heart. And it is my passion. And I have found that this is a way to give back and to activate my own self in movement and in the process. Much of the work we do for Sankora.org has been on the front lines. We have been on the front lines of many marches for such a short time being in existence.
“And the reason why things came together so quickly is because I’m extremely close to my father and understand who he is, how he works, his strategy and his legacy,” Belefonte added.
“Since I’m more able bodied now, I’m able to take that work and use it to influence culture, to participation and to bridge that legacy and use his platform and his celebrity to shine a light.”
Not only does the festival include a dizzying array of A-listers who will impart knowledge and provide uplifting music, Belafonte promised even more surprises that most people have never witnessed. For example, there will be music like “Sing Her Name” with the Dream Unfinished which is a whole orchestra of musicians of color that don’t find opportunities in orchestras and philharmonics across the country.
“The orchestra decided to come together and create a whole platform. And we wanted to uplift that. Usher came to us with a whole song and he wanted to figure a way to integrate the message in the song around issues of police brutality and gun violence.
Belafonte also said that The Sakora.org was able to interact with the mothers of gun violence and police brutality and engage them in participating some way with the festival.
Gina Belafonte added that her father Harry will curate the final day of the festival. “He has curated the closing finale of the festival in a beautiful show with incredible images and a lineup of music and artist who will be participating. So that will be very, very exciting. He wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Tip, who will perform at the festival, has added a socially-conscious song and video for the promotion of the festival which appears on the Sankofa.org website. He references the legendary freedom fighters from yesteryear when he raps such things as “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees,” a famous quote that Black Panther founder Huey Newton used to love to say. The revered rapper also talked about how “we won’t start a war, but …” an ode to Malcolm X from back in the 60s who preached self defense at all costs.
Tip said he is not afraid to disturb the sensibilities of people in these turbulent times. In fact, it is an imperative.
“I wish I cared about what people think. I feel passionate about something and I share it,” Tip said. “And if you disagree with it, you are entitled to it, just as I am entitled to share. That’s the principles that I stand on when I am displaying my art.”
T.I.’s disposition is why he was not concerned how it looked publicly when he convinced fellow rising rappers Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug to join him in opening up accounts at the black-owned Citizens Trust.
“The financial structure of a community is imperative to grow one’s influence, if you will,” Harris said. “We all know that black lives don’t necessarily matter to everyone. However, black dollars do. Okay, so, to make sure to make someone respect something that they are not acknowledging right now, then you take the thing that they do respect and you remove it from them until you get their attention – at least until you get them to be passionate about the things you are passionate about. I think that is the most effective tool that we can use right now.”
Gina Belafonte shares Tip’s sentiments. Social activism is in her DNA and she feels compelled to carry on her father’s legacy and others who fought for our rights we currently enjoy.
“It’s a huge challenge and legacy to uphold. And we have to answer to those communities who look up to us to do the right thing. I’m in it to win it. I have a 19-year-old child and I want the world to be a better place,” Belafonte finished emphatically.