When America is faced with what seems to be an endless stream of police brutality, discrimination, and gentrification toward black and brown individuals, sharing an article for the fifth time can start to feel fruitless. Those of us who continue to see this kind of gut-wrenching news on our social media feeds can start to wonder what exactly we can do to help.
Well, tonight there’s a tangible way to make some sort of a difference: Crown Heights bar and venue Friends and Lovers is throwing a big ol’ dance party with performances, DJ sets, and raffles to benefit the NYC chapter of Black Lives Matter.
Dash Speaks, the music director at Friends and Lovers’s and the organizer of tonight’s fundraiser, tells me the idea came to mind after the news of Philando Castile’s death at the hands of a police officer. On July 6 Castile, a 32-year-old black school cook from a St. Paul suburb, was pulled over by a cop while driving with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter. After a brief exchange, Castile was shot multiple times with his hands up.
Reynolds live streamed a video she’d taken in the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook, turning the usually banal use of social media into a platform for an experience that was both horrifying and illuminating. The death was ultimately ruled a homicide, but rekindled a public rage in activists nationwide as proof that little had changed since the BLM movement was started by three queer black women in response to the trial that led to the acquittal of George Zimmerman on murder charges, what many saw as essentially a posthumous trial of the 17-year-old victim, Trayvon Martin.
Castile’s death was surrounded by even more instances of police shooting black people; just the day before 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Charles Kinsey an unarmed caretaker to an autistic boy was shot with his hands up in Miami on July 21 and luckily survived. Kinsey gave interviews from his hospital bed– one of the rare instances in which a victim in one of these cases was able to speak for themselves after the fact.
And the news keeps coming: on August 10, the Washington Post reported that the fatal shooting of Donnell Thompson, a 27-year-old unarmed black man from Compton with “the mental faculties of a much younger man,” had been mistakenly killed by heavily armed police officers who mistook Thompson for a suspect involved in a recent carjacking. Almost two weeks later, an investigation found that the police had been wrong. But it was too late– Thompson had died the day of the shooting. These are just a few of the countless instances of police brutality across America that have made headlines in the past few months, and only a fraction of the total– a number that has proven difficult to grasp.
After news broke about Castile’s death, Speak was approached by a friend, DJ Noumenon, who throws the monthly Brooklyn Took It party (every first Friday) at Friends and Lovers, about throwing a fundraiser.
“Like most decent, at least somewhat informed people in America, we were both really upset about what was going on, and like many of them, I wasn’t quite sure how to channel that anger and discontent into something positive,” Speaks tells me in an email. “We both realized that this was a way that we could effectively use our influence to help the Black Lives Matter movement.”
And you can help too, by doing basically the same thing you’d do on any other weekend night. But unlike most nights, you’ll be drinking for a good cause, as 100 percent of profits from ticket and raffle sales and 20 percent of bar profits will be donated to the NYC chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The raffle prizes don’t suck, either– up for grabs are two tickets to this year’s Afropunk Festival (lineup includes Ice Cube and TV on the Radio) and Full Moon Festival, a pair of fancy headphones, DJ lessons, dinner at neighboring restaurants, and more.
Autumn Marie, an activist with BLM NYC, told us that the funds will support the activists’ “ongoing community work” which includes supporting the families of victims and both the #SwipeItForward and Every Black Girl campaign. The latter strives to inform young black and brown girls of their worth, began in 2015 as a response to the video of former Richland County deputy Ben Fields body-slamming a young black girl at a high school and her 18-year-old friend who was arrested for interfering in the violence in an attempt to defend her classmate.
Though this event tonight is meant to raise money, it’s also a dance party. In gentrifying neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and even Crown Heights where Friends and Lovers is located, nightlife is a massive factor that draws young, often white people to these areas. Warehouses become sites for raves, priced-out local businesses become bars and bass beats surge late into the night, making it pretty hypocritical for these very people to complain about their neighbors playing merengue music during the day.
“Culture in nightlife in New York is a good indication of culture in general in New York,” said Speaks. “As NYC continues to gentrify, and the crowds get less diverse, and in turn, less interesting, a lot of nightlife programming is homogenizing.” Speaks, said he “grew up partying here” along with his partner at Friends and Lovers, Diana Mora. “Nightlife is not as interesting or diverse as it used to be,” he mused. “With that in mind, we feel an obligation to take a stand against that normalization, to provide a stage for interesting parties, performers, and DJs that are willing to step outside of the box and take risks.”
Speaks tells me his venue’s location makes this a little more feasible in the New York of today, where developers swoop in at every turn and seem to have no awareness or regard for the people who originally lived in trendy neighborhoods, or pretty much anyone aside from the upper crust, who will buy opulent condos to leave empty while over 60,000 people in NYC (many of which are black and Latino) remain homeless.
”Crown Heights is at a place now where most of the young people that live here like to keep it a bit weird and appreciate diversity, so it works. It might be a bit more challenging to maintain something like this if we were in the East Village,” he says. “I think there are certain scenes where the vast majority of the DJs, or at least the DJs getting booked, are white dudes so when you have a venue that operates primarily in and for those scenes, unless talent-buyers make an effort, this becomes an issue.” Despite house music having origins in black, Latino, and queer scenes, commercial EDM still largely brings white men to the forefront.
Maybe the real reason you’d rather share a bunch of articles on social media instead of get your butt to a dance party is because you’re “broke” and a $25 party seems really steep. There are other ways to get involved, Autumn Marie explained: follow the Black Lives Matter NYC chapter on Twitter and Instagram at @BLMNYC and visit their website, blacklivesmatternyc.com and maybe attend a protest once in a while, eh?
Love Conquers All: A Fundraiser For Black Lives Matter is happening tonight, Friday August 12 9 pm at Friends and Lovers, $25-35.