Evening for Black Lives encourages audience to contemplate being Black in America

Colton Loeb

DeKALB Organizers of An Evening of Music for Black Lives Friday at Hopkins Park opened the night of music with a few words about Elijah Mcclain, Elante Mcdowel and the injustice faced by Black people everywhere. 

“We are here today to honor Elijah’s life, and the lives of so many other people of color in this country who are discriminated against,” event organizer Shrestha Singh said. Elijah McClain, from Aurora, Colorado, was a 23-year-old man who died on Aug. 30, 2019 after someone called the police on him as he left the local convenience store, claiming he looked suspicious. The police confronted him, tackled him and put him in a chokehold that blocked the arteries to his brain. First responders injected him with a sedative that led to him having a heart attack on the way to the hospital, he was declared brain dead. 

Singh said her hope was that the music would breathe some life into the lives of those in attendance. She said she hoped that one day Black lives, dreams, music, stories, thoughts and people are treated with dignity, respect and justice. 

Organizers followed this by reading a list of Black lives lost to police violence. 

The list was extensive and included not only their names but ages as well: George Floyd, 46, Breonna Taylor, 26, Tamir Rice, 12, Amad Aubrey, 25, and countless more were among those named. 

This was followed by a moment of silence for all those killed due to police violence, known and unknown. 

The first song was performed by a brass section of five, a string section of three violins, a guitar, bass and drums. They played “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar. It was a strong opener that the crowd responded to with hefty applause.  

This was followed by two original songs by rap artist J-Royal, from DeKalb. 

“The world we know is burning, still just keeps on turning”, J-Royal sang in his song titled “World On Fire.” The second song he performed was titled “Hope”. 

“I’ve been living here my whole life and music is my passion,” J-Royal said. “I like doing deeper music. I like trap music and all that stuff but I really like music that hits the soul. I thought being invited to this musical vigil was a good opportunity for me to express; it’s an outlet.” 

Up next was local poet Keonte Caldwell reciting an original poem called “Ode To My Blackness”, a beautifully fraught stream of consciousness about his life as a Black man. 

“Memories don’t always fade no matter how young they were made, sometimes I just want to forget it all,” Caldwell said.  

A line he repeated in the poem was, “Mama raised me to take what I have and leave it to god.” He spoke of educational disparity. “The Black face takes up less than 9% in the most prestigious college in America,” Caldwell said.

The next piece was played by the NIU Suzuki strings. They played a piece called “Adoration” by Florence Price. Price was the first Black female to write for a major symphony orchestra.

The group played the piece with joy. The sounds were sickly sweet with an almost longing tone. 

After this piece young local string players joined the group and played “Oh Come Little Children” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” 

Neutral Legato performed an original song, “Say My Name.” The song opens with the lyric, “don’t kill me, I’m not the beast roaming your streets.”  

“I started writing it thinking about if I ever ended up in a situation where my life was at risk by the hand of the police,” Legato said. “It’s a hard question that I think a lot of Black kids have to ask themselves around the age of 13 or 14. I started writing down some of the questions I would have. I will never understand the fear someone would have of me, a musician living in DeKalb, Illinois.” 

The song serves as an insightful look at the experience of Black lives in America, posing questions to the audience and to society. 

“My blood is thicker than blue dye,” Legato said, as if to say the dye will drip off him and blood binds him to this cause. The song ends with the line “if I die the world better say my name, if I die by your hands.” 

After Legato performed, the organizers took a brief intermission, using the time to read demands to the city government. Among the demands were calls to charge officers who use excessive force, choke holds and a call to make body cameras mandatory at all times when officers are interacting with the public. 

Organizers called for reallocation of funds to hire and pay social workers, provide de-escalation training to officers and social workers and redistribute funds to invest in the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board and Annie Glidden North Revitalization project. 

Next, music teacher Carla Robinson and others played Sam Cook’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” 

“The interesting thing about this song is how long ago he wrote it, and we are still looking for the same change Sam Cook was looking for,” Robinson said. 

The next performer was local artist Visionary J, performing his song, “Validation”, which can be found on Spotify

“Validation” is an upbeat rap song full of rhymes like, “Girl you ain’t finna waste my time I snap like Thanos, never running out of ammo boy call me rambo, gotta catch them all like I’m from Kanto.” 

The night was closed with a performance of Nina Simon’s “Ain’t Got No Life” filled with violin and plenty of saxophone. 

The night was a success filled with great music and messages of remembrance and hope. 

Members of the audience — some young, some old — danced and swayed to the music, and it was clear life had been breathed into the concert-goers.


Brass Section (Patrick Murphy )