Artists start conversation on creativity and cultural identity

Erica Thompson

Nina Simone once said, "An artist's duty is to reflect the times." The legendary singer fulfilled that goal by becoming a powerful voice for African-Americans in the 1960s with social justice anthems like "Mississippi Goddam."

Today Simone's music is still relevant and inspiring to African-American artists, including those in Columbus. After listening to Simone's uplifting "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," Lincoln Theatre General Manager Suzan Bradford was moved to organize an event around the theme of the song.

"Community Conversations: To Be Young, Gifted and Black" is a two-part engagement at the Lincoln Theatre, featuring a free roundtable discussion, a panel and Q&A on Thursday, Oct. 20, and a performance on Saturday, Nov. 19. It is the newest edition in the "Conversations" series, following installments on topics such as "the power of words" and the Voting Rights Act.

The new conversation will explore empowerment, conflict resolution and cultural identity.

"How do we use our empowerment to help us find resolve?" Bradford asked during a mid-October interview at Lincoln Cafe. "And how do we be comfortable in our blackness and even in our youthful voice to speak to adults or speak to legislators or speak to politicians or speak to administrators … without being disrespectful?"

Many African-Americans are wrestling with these questions given the current climate in the country, which some find comparable to the Civil Rights era.

"The fever pitch is so high right now, particularly regarding race relations," said social justice advocate Kimberly Brazwell, who will facilitate the event panel. "Externally, you have the elections happening at the same time as the Black Lives Matter [movement]. … Internally, inside of the black community in particular, we have this resurrection of colorism. You've got, in high schools, people talking about 'team light skin' [and] 'team dark skin.'"

Brazwell wants young artists to know that they can use their talents to express tension and passion around those issues in a positive way. "And that beauty that you create can be informed by your blackness. … There's all these different kinds of ways to be black. We're not a monolith," she said.

Panelists include a wide range of creatives, from graphic designer and entrepreneur Marshall Shorts to New Albany high school student and bassist Redd Ingram. Bradford selected participants based, in part, on "commitment and loyalty to their race, to humanity [and] to their community."

Bradford also purposely included a variety of age ranges to encourage multi-generational dialogue. And she hopes to see everyone from high-school students to older residents in attendance.

"I think this also shows our elders and our community leaders that the young people are invested," Bradford said.

And Brazwell promises to keep people honest in their communication. "If everyone gets pushed, we get to a more authentic response, and when everyone is a little more vulnerable … it makes the entire body more human," she said.

In addition to moderating, Brazwell will serve as a visual practitioner during the event, recording peoples' thoughts through word bubbles, doodles and other imagery on a mural. "People get to, in a way, immortalize a little piece of their voice on this piece of paper," Brazwell said.

"It gives them a sense of inclusion in the discussion and in the dialogue," Bradford said. "And I think for the young people who will be in attendance … it'll encourage them to be comfortable in their voice."

The results of the conversation will help inform the November dance and spoken-word performance by the Lincoln Theatre's resident arts group, Thiossane West African Dance Institute, and students from Fort Hayes High School's Paragon Project.

"We want them to leave still wanting to talk about it," Bradford said of the event. "We want it to foster continued dialogue either at home or at work, with their children [and] their families."

And if past "Community Conversations" are any indication, the more than 100 attendees expected might be too excited and engrossed to leave the theatre at the conclusion of the event. "Often times we do have to dim the lights," Bradford said. "It's a good problem to have."

"Community Conversations: To Be Young, Gifted and Black"

6 p.m. Thursday, October 20

"To Be Young, Gifted and Black" Performance

6:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19

Lincoln Theatre, 769 E Long St., King-Lincoln District


Suzan Bradford

Age: 54

Day Job: General Manager at the Lincoln Theatre

Hometown: East Side

Current Neighborhood: East Side

Currently listening to: Heavy D

Favorite restaurant in Columbus: Willowbeez Soulveg,ZenCha Tea Salon, Madison Soul Food Kitchen

Favorite movie: "The Wiz"

Favorite TV show: "Queen Sugar"

What song is currently stuck in your head? "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" by Nina Simone

Kimberly Brazwell

Age: 40

Day Job: Social Justice Advocate

Hometown: North Side

Current Neighborhood: Easton

Currently listening to: Mick Jenkins

Favorite restaurant in Columbus: Willowbeez Soulveg

Favorite movie: "Good Will Hunting" and "The Color Purple"

Favorite TV show: "Avatar: The Last Airbender"

What song is currently stuck in your head? "Drowning" by Mick Jenkins