BLAC sponsors concert to raise money for Jena Six Defense Fund

By Annie Lewine

Macalester’s Black Liberation Affairs Committee has collaborated with a student group from the University of Minnesota to create a forum and concert to benefit the group known as the “Jena Six.” The concert, which will feature a variety of musical and spoken-word performers, will be held at Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis this Saturday and will raise money for the Jena Six Legal Defense Fund.”Jena Six” refers to six black students at Jena High School in Jena, La., currently at the center of a civil rights battle.

Last fall, when two Jena High School black students sat under what was commonly known as a “white only” tree, white students responded by hanging nooses over its branches. After a fight between white and black students broke out, the six black students involved were charged with second-degree attempted murder and placed in a trial before an all-white jury. The white students involved in the incident have not faced legal action, but were forced to attend an alternative school for some time and were given in-school suspension for several days.

“[The concert and forum] are definitely about raising awareness,” Legacy Russell ’08, who has been helping with press releases and publicity, said. “I mean we definitely want to make money for the defense fund.but we’re trying to create a heightened sense of awareness” about race-related issues.

Russell cited 2004’s “Missed America” gallery show, which she helped to organize her first year at Macalester, as an example of a successful off-campus event. “Missed America” was a mixed media gallery show for young and politically engaged artists from the Twin Cities. The event raised about $2,500 and was attended by about 800 people, Russell said.

Tsione Wolde-Michael ’08 said the “Missed America” event was successful even though it had no funding or support from Macalester. Wolde-Michael helped plan the event and is currently project coordinator for the Jena Six forum and “Hip Hop Justice” fundraiser concert.

“Doing the event through BLAC has helped us get more Macalester support,” she said. “It’s an incredibly important event for them.”

BLAC has received funding and support for both the forum and the concert from the Program Board, which Wolde-Michael said she hoped would make this event even more successful than “Missed America.”

“We’re providing financial support, but that’s not all we want to do,” Maria Schirmer ’08, Program Board chair, said. “This has been a very good lesson in collaboration. We want to really be involved, so we’ve been helping with publicity” and arranging for transportation for students.

In addition to the collaboration with the Program Board, BLAC is also working with the University of Minnesota chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, a national multi-issue student organization. According to Wolde-Michael, the opportunity to work with and meet students from other schools is another reason students ought to attend this weekend’s concert.

“It’s not just about the show,” Wolde-Michael said. “Letting [Macalester students] meet people from other schools doing the same work they’re doing is a great networking opportunity” as well.

Thursday’s forum was also meant to raise awareness about the Jena Six, and draw attention to some of the broader issues behind it, Wolde-Michael said.

“It’s not just to learn about the case itself,” she said. “[The case] is central to the forum, but the questions we’re asking are ‘umbrella questions,’ under which all the more specific issues can be discussed.”

Schirmer agreed, adding that issues of race and social justice are still as relevant as ever.

“We really feel that [the forum and the concert] couldn’t be more timely,” she said.