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ATLANTA UNTRAPPED: A3C and social justice initiatives

The Action Summit gets it right + Afropunk’s dilemma

A3C Finalist Strip
Photo credit: Courtesy A3C
ACTION TEAM: A3C’s Action Summit finalists are Quyionah Wingfield (from left), Sage Salvo, Selah Guru, Ragz Bruland, and Byron Young.

From Harry Belafonte’s 2016 Many Rivers to Cross festival to Atlanta’s installment of Afropunk, this city has seen its share of festivals attempting to bridge the gap between social justice and entertainment. In many ways, Many Rivers did bridge the gaps between generations, but it struggled to stick to its overall theme. I’m a huge fan of Ty Dolla $ign, but the rapper’s explicit set, featuring songs like “Zaddy,” wasn’t exactly a good fit for a social justice festival. And it certainly felt out of place alongside powerfully political moments captured during sets by Common, John Legend, and Belafonte.

For much of the weekend, the Black Lives Matter signage displayed throughout the festival grounds, felt more like an opportunity for social media photos than it did a serious vehicle for effecting change.

Likewise, Lou Constant-Desportes, Editor-in-Chief for Afropunk’s online publication, recently resigned. In a Facebook post, Constant-Desportes accuses the company of practicing, “performative ‘activism’ dipped in consumerism and ‘woke’ keywords used for marketing purposes.”

His resignation came amid reports that a woman named Ericka Hart, her partner Ebony Donnley, and their friend Lorelei Black were kicked out of the Brooklyn festival because one of them wore a shirt with the hand-written message, “Afropunk sold out for white consumption.”

The festival has since apologized in a statement that says: "We are sorry that Ericka and Ebony feel mistreated. That was not, nor has it ever been, our intention. We have supported Ericka and her activism for many years. We celebrate her voice, her activism, and her Black body. She is a part of our Afropunk community."

But the accusations aren’t new. While I certainly enjoyed the inaugural Afropunk Atlanta festival, longtime fans of the festival, which was founded in Brooklyn in 2015, have expressed displeasure for years. Most complaints center around Afropunk increasingly catering to mainstream audiences and artists, making the punk fans of color feel as though they, once again, have been pushed out of their sacred space.


Festivals won’t always get it right, but I am genuinely excited to see how a popular local festival could utilize its platform and star power to effect change in the communities it serves.

A3C Hip-Hop Festival & Conference will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year, which is no small feat for a festival. In a market where festivals come and go, A3C has remained a staple in the hip-hop community, not just because of its live shows, but also because of the executives and influencers that attend each year to participate in lectures and workshops. From NPR journalist (and former CL Culture Writer) Rodney Carmichael to Tuma Basa, YouTube’s director of urban music, A3C is a networking and developmental paradise for anyone involved in the genre.

In recent years, the festival has facilitated conversations beyond music business with the Action Summit. Billboard reports this year’s summit will feature discussions on police brutality, racial profiling, mental health, and more. Five Action Summit finalists using hip-hop music and culture to advance social justice in underserved communities have will pitch for $10,000 at the Action Summit on Fri, Oct 5 Finalists include Byron Young, MD (The Hip-hop Mentoring Cypher Sessions), Sage Salvo (Words Liive), Quyionah Wingfield (Cool Moms Dance Too),
Selah Guru (Supreme MCs Rule Hip-hop Expression Program), and Ragz Bruland (FlexIn FlexOut).

Talib Kweli, Killer Mike, Shanti Das, Trae the Truth, Dr. David Wall Rice, Representative Bruce Franks, Jr., and more are scheduled to participate in the the two-day summit, which will be held at the Auburn Ave Research Library for African American Studies.

“Hip-Hop and justice have often gone hand in hand, and A3C wants to underline that,” Mike Walbert, A3C’s executive director, said in a press release. “Our Action events are our way of paying tribute to this powerful current in the music we love and to help support the music makers and lovers who use this power to do real good in their communities.”

This year, the festival’s A3C Action Accelerator will provide four non-profits with the opportunity to participate in a bootcamp that will teach activists how to manage, sustain and market a nonprofit before placing them in front of a panel of judges who could grant them $10,000 in funding for their initiatives. To coincide with the festival’s overall mission, all of the nonprofits incorporate music into their programs, utilizing the artform to educate and improve the wellbeing of participants.

In today’s political climate, it’s not enough to put up woke signs on your festival grounds or to host an hour-long panel with influencers. If festivals and media companies want to show they’re dedicated to social innovation, it means less marketing of their own brands and more support of grassroot initiatives. A3C certainly has the right idea.

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