What’s Going On: Visions for Social Justice

Photo courtesy of Camera Dunn

As the hush of the evening settled down on campus on Friday, Sept. 11, a group of students ramped up to make their voices heard.

Several expressive paintings close in the steps of the Campanile as even the familiar spray of the fountain is absent. Tonight is the night Danielle Mathis, a third-year IE, has been waiting for.

“In the summertime, I had a dream where I saw this happening. It was outside, and we were just grooving and vibing to music and art where we’re speaking out about what’s going on in society.”

The title of the event, “What’s Going On,” comes from a 1971 Marvin Gaye song, ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the fourth greatest song of all time. Gaye’s song was written about police brutality, an issue that persists today.

This event involved music, spoken word, dance and artwork from a handful of talented students and friends with the hope of bringing awareness of current social justice issues to campus.

Along with promoting social justice, Mathis wanted to showcase art at Tech.

“I wanted people to see the talent that’s on our very campus,” she explains. “I feel like Georgia Tech should make that a goal, to help students who have talents and also are incredible engineers to develop both and not have to put one to the side.”

Fourth-year MSE, Aaron Jordan performed three songs at the concert, two with his brother and a solo piece a cappella. Two of his performances focused on the death of twelve year old Tamir Rice at the hands of Cleveland Police.

With his pieces, he hoped to show the tragedy with the current social justice issues facing America. “If it doesn’t affect you then you tend to think it’s not important … A lot of people aren’t even aware that these things are going on so most of it is just to bring awareness — before you can create any sort of change, people have to know about it.”

Jordan continued, “Most of those songs were extremely heartfelt because it’s literally like is this going to happen to me? Am I next? It really hits home … It’s just to say look these are real issues, this is really happening. And it’s like if we don’t do something about this, it is going to continue.”

For all of the artists, this event was an outlet to express themselves. Jordan explained, “If I don’t get these thoughts out somehow then it’ll literally drive me insane. It’s torturous almost. And I think music really helps me cope with a lot of it.”

Raianna Brown is a third year Industrial Engineering major also enrolled at Emory as a Dance major. She performed a dance titled “Tie My Hands”.

“When I dance I feel like I can communicate a lot more than I could with words. And I feel like that’s true for most artists. It’s the medium that we choose to communicate with.”

For Brown, the most moving part of the event was the culmination the different types of art.  “Essentially everyone’s saying the same thing. But different people’s spin on it [is really powerful].”

On the event, Mathis confessed, “Seeing it unfold, seeing people show their talents, be enthusiastic, people come out, fellowship with one another, make the atmosphere on campus a little bit better after a long week at Georgia Tech … Sometimes you have a vision and what happens is more than what you thought was possible.”

Mathis had never put on an outdoor event on campus, but she revealed, “It just came easily once I had the vision, everything just started falling into place.”

Mathis drew much inspiration from the biblical quote, “All things work together,” while preparing for this event. “I knew it was going to happen, like there was no doubt that we were going to have the performance. I knew even if I had to be out there by myself…” Mathis trails off. “That’s how determined I was.”

Multiple artists referenced the abundance of hash tags on Twitter as a current problem.“This is a daily thing,” said Jordan. “Every day I see a new hashtag on Twitter or I hear about another black person who was murdered in the city. The justification for it is always tragic.”

Brown feels her showcase represents “how it feels as a minority to be in this, and be living it right now, and the pressure that comes with that. But also just the immense weight … of going on Twitter, and seeing somebody else’s name hashtagged, and that being normal now.”

“The words that we are expressing are our everyday lives,” Mathis acknowledged. “And for social justice it’s not about color at all. It’s about what’s right. And what’s right is for us to live in unity, in harmony. And I feel like that’s what music represents — unity, harmony.”

“Artists are always typically at the forefront of social change so I feel like it’s important to have stuff like that on our campus so it’s accessible to students,”
Brown added.

Moving forward, Mathis wants to make this an annual event. She is eager to launch her own initiative and even start her own company that coincides with her passions. She keeps up with her own music endeavors on SoundCloud and is part of an inspirational outlet that will start this weekend called Caterpillar’s Promise.

“I felt love at this event. That’s basically all I could have asked for. For people to feel love, to feel something.” Mathis finished by saying, “When we come together, there’s nothing like it.”