How a diverse community harnesses its skills to support Black Lives Matter

Three years ago, a few passionate fire-spinners started a “community-driven blend of yoga, dancing, and fire” called Sunset & Chill. They built a large diverse community that came together most weekends to welcome all who wanted to perform and to watch.

All performers have been saddened and sidelined by the pandemic. But as the Black Lives Matter movement grew, the performers from Sunset & Chill saw an opportunity to use their skills to create something that spoke in support of Black Lives Matter. They decided that their statement should take the form of a dance video, using their language of movement to help showcase diversity and counter toxic culture.

Presenting: Coffin, Iman, Willow, the Sign Spinners, Rae & Sonny

Artists’ statements

Max Labasbas

Real change is when there is a ground swell big enough to shift the paradigm

Max Labasbas
Read Max’s artist statement

Taking the time to stop and appreciate your surroundings is one of life’s most precious and priceless actions.  When you see a painting, hear a band or listen to a music producer, stop to admire a dance troupe, a well finessed score at a professional stadium, perennial landscaping, stopping to appreciate a finely tuned sports car on the street that someone worked really hard to acquire, whatever it may be that you stop to appreciate… the whole experience is a sum of all its parts.  The sports car is a sleek high performing machine…a sum of all its parts.  So, let me ask you this, can you honestly say the total experience would be perfect if one would believe not all parts in this finely tuned machine are equally as important to the overall experience? It wouldn’t be close to perfect anymore, you’d walk away feeling there is something missing, the experience may even be somewhat mediocre. What would a country be if one group’s contribution was historically missing?  If one effort doesn’t matter as much, isn’t equally appreciated, or equally revered for its irreplaceable contributions, then does the whole matter? It doesn’t, the end result is honestly self-induced mediocrity, its unrealized potential.  It’s not giving respect where respect is due.  It’s ignoring what actually makes us great.

When the latest injustice hit and the current protests erupted, I watched the news like everyone else, woke up to social media collectively losing its mind as usual. My friends were mobilizing in the streets getting gassed for photo ops.  In my head watching the George Floyd video after the recent news about Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery etc within weeks of each other, my first thought was “oh really another one?”  Isn’t there something inherently wrong about the numbness behind that kind of reaction? I found myself seeing so much outpouring online.  Some good, definitely some bad, and some of what is now referred to as tone deafness from our closest of friends.  Leaving me confused as to how they can under acknowledge this special moment of reckoning?  It was affecting my sleep negatively, bringing up past memories of racial trauma that many people of color experience periodically, and also sometimes forget because either it was from our formative years or it happens so frequently for some the trauma is forgotten for the fact racism can be so commonplace (it’s just a thing).  I was sharing my experiences with my friends about how these events have tailored my general outlook today, what’s in my heart about what so many take for granted. To truly appreciate this moment that we have in America to its fullest potential we really need to stop and listen to each other and digest the conversation. Instead of always waiting for someone to finish speaking before glossing over that person’s truth, with interjections that half the time miss the point.  Watching how my friends were going at each other online talking past one another is a souring experience and it diminishes what amazing things we all contribute daily to this experiment of America.  

My buddy Sam contacted me feeling the same way I was feeling, and he wanted to make a social media post from our Sunset & Chill event promotion page.  Real change is when there is a ground swell big enough to shift the paradigm and my friends naturally understand this, they realize what being on the correct side of history is.  So, I mention to my partner that just a post will get lost in the online chatter in 24 hours, may annoy some of our patrons that might not understand.  We are an art collective of dancers, musicians, and multi-media professionals so why don’t we make something that with longevity and is the language we speak best.  How about we make a dance music video?  Something that represents all our skill sets, and cultures that will cut the tone of toxicity online.  A surprised and inspired Sam and I got with our other partner Wade and began brainstorming on how to pull this project off.  Art imitates life after all and we are artists exercise our passion bringing thoughts into reality.  We live in a historical city of power and protest.  The piece speaks to the diversity of Washington DC, the dancers here, the music here, the streets here. They’re all filled with energy and strength let’s show that.  We wanted to use dancers that represent different communities, walks of life, and individuality.  We wanted a song that is powerful, uplifting as opposed to angering, that relates more to perseverance than to the pain of that protest.  When chatting with Sam and Wade I mentioned how much Fort Knox Five’s song “Funk for Peace” with Mustafa Akbar is the vibe that was motivating my vision of this.  Then I discovered their recently released remix of Mustafa Akbar’s song “Resist.” This song perfectly describes our current renewal of the Civil Rights struggle.   We as a people are hurting with the systemic racism struggle and the depths in which it operates.  The LGBTQ struggle is also represented in this piece, the native indigenous struggle is represented, males, females, and trans. We are all DC; we are all America. Today more than ever not only do we need to remind the status quo, the privileged, that Black Lives Matter and we’ll never reach our full worth until every seat at Camelot’s round table is filled with strong warriors for justice.  Justice for all.  The fight is not over, and we will Resist the powers that be together.  Bringing together so much talent for a positive art project was the most fulfilling side effect.  We are a sum of All our parts! 

Sam Stevens

the expression of art elevates the voice of the protest movement

Sam Stevens
Read Sam’s artist statement

We believe that one of the best ways to exercise your First Amendment right is through radical self expression and the creation of art. By highlighting the talent of these artists set to such inspirational music, the expression of art elevates the voice of the protest movement to inspire others and advocate for real change in our society.

Willow

there are other people just like you out there

Willow
Read Willow’s artist statement

So basically I really wanted to be involved because I have lived an extremely repressed life, hiding who I am… and as I have grown I want to be a source of inspiration for people like me to see, the things I didn’t growing up, things that kept me in bondage…. “Hey, you can and are beautiful. And you aren’t crazy… there are other people just like you out there” we are here and have always been here… so much love to you all… keep fighting

Iman

our need for equal representation amidst the stifling of our voices

Iman
Iman’s artist statement

Resist to me is a blending of cultures and an amplification of our need for equal representation amidst the stifling of our voices. Our messages are important, our messages are valid, and our need for progression is real, now more than ever. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Coffin

We are not a monolith

Coffin
Coffin’s artist statement

Resistance. Honestly being myself is enough, that’s certainly the fight back to society in its own right. What I love most about the video is the different people really showing that we are not a monolith, we are a spectrum of people fighting back against the world’s ideas of us.

Sonny Tran

Without black cultural contributions there would be no hip hop

Sonny
Sonny’s artist statement

Without black cultural contributions there would be no hip hop. If you love hip hop then you have to love/support BLM. Hip hop has been a positive influence to me all my life. It’s allowed me to travel the world, meet amazing people & experience different cultures. My bboy crew, Lionz of Zion, is multicultural as well. It has taught me respect & love for everyone. Was a honor to be a part of the project.

Rae Hopkins

I stand and dance to end oppression

Rae
Rae’s artist statement

My English name is Rae Hopkins.
My Inupiaq name is Chikkuq.
My Bgirl name is FlyGurl Rae.

My father is African American and Puerto Rican.
My mother is Inupiaq Alaskan Native.
I was born and raised in Alaska and the DMV.

I stand and dance for my culture, for my lineage, for my tribe and my roots. I stand and dance for all the younger generations. I stand and dance to end oppression and to change this world. I stand and dance for our sacred mother Earth. I stand and dance for all lives lost. I stand and dance with my brothers and sisters of color because Black Lives Matter and indigenous rights are human rights. I stand and dance from snow to sand to the sun. I stand because I understand.

I am ALASKAN.
I am AFRICAN AMERICAN.
I am LATINO.

I am here to STAY!

Sign spinner

I want to help raise awareness

Artist statement

I’m here to be a part of the video because I want to help raise awareness for everyone who has made a sacrifice to make this movement happen and also to those who have tried to make and promote change.

Wade, Sam, and Max

Filmmakers

Spencer Grundler

©Shamal Halmat

Our creativity is our power.

Spencer
Spencer’s artist statement

As a filmmaker I understand that there are two experiences in any production experience. There is the experience of those who see the finished project, and there is also the contact involvement of those who participated in the creation of the film. As artists we tend to try to measure ourselves towards standards of success or failure. Some people believe that success is in how well received or popular the finished film is, however I would like to believe that the measure of success is in how the artists involved were affected in the process of creating it. While working on “Resist” with the collaborative minds of Sunset & Chill, the all-volunteer film crew, and the talented on screen performers, I saw a spark of something enlightening that was enflamed into something revolutionary. Many of the collaborators knew each other, some did not, but just based on how we scheduled the day we asked the artists that we would film from earlier in the day to stick with us for the rest of the day until we could arrive to meet at Black Lives Matter Plaza. I saw friends supporting each other, strangers acknowledging new art forms, and new bonds being formed with a great amount of respect to the cast and the crew. To the people who see the film in its finished form, all that I’ve ever hoped for was that they could see some fraction of the energy created on set. This is how we protest. With love and respect, speaking loudly with the words of Mustafa Akbar, and also with the movement and performance of the artists who contributed to the creation of this film. Our creativity is our power.

Shamal Halmat

Fighting for the real American Dream

Shamal
Shamal’s artist statement

Fighting for the real American Dream. 

I am a first-generation Kurdish-American. My father left Iraq that was under Saddam’s rule, coming to the United States to avoid persecution and provide a better life for his family. Free from oppression, totalitarianism, and genocide. The pursuit of the American dream. 

Since I was a child I developed a strong appreciation for true American values; 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

That’s the America I first knew and the America that I want to live in. But growing up and noticing certain realities, you start to wonder if the whole concept of the American dream is just an illusion.  The hypocrisies, dehumanization, stagnated wages, the racial and economic inequalities, a ruling class along with the world’s largest prison population in the “Land of the Free”. 

It’s easy to become disillusioned. Feel trapped in a rat race. That it’s all a lie. But I then remember that my dad escaped Saddam’s regime and when he sees his son growing up and getting educated in the U.S, he sees the American dream. That there is still a version of this country where that is still real. 

It’s important to keep fighting for that version. An America for the people, by the people. But it’s important to fight back, not with violence, but with our voice, with our creative expression, and with celebrating our differences. Realizing we are all humans who want the same things. Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

 That is why I am happy to be a part of this project. 

Daniel Bowie

Seeing so much talent come together to spread a positive message was a humbling and refreshing experience

Daniel
Daniel’s artist statement

I’m thankful to have been able to contribute to something bigger than myself. It was my pleasure to be a part of this project and to work with such a wonderful team. Seeing so much talent come together to spread a positive message was a humbling and refreshing experience.

Musicians – Fort Knox Five

a true reflection of this moment in history

Steve Raskin
Artist statement

When we approached our remix for “Resist” we wanted to toughen up the track by upping the tempo while keeping it funky to carry the weight of Mustafa’s revolutionary lyrics. The video really captures the heart of the song turning it into a cross ethnic, multicultural dance piece that is a true reflection of this moment in history – Steve Raskin, Fort Knox Five

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All photos copyright to Rob Klug unless otherwise noted

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3 Comments

  1. So honored to be a part of something so important and beautiful. Thank you to the crew the cast and all those involved. Love y’all! *Rae

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