2020 TRUE WEST AWARD: AMPLIFY
By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
"Amplify" means to intensify, escalate and magnify a sound that needs to be cranked up. Last summer, the Arvada Center launched “Amplify,” a summer-long video series giving voice to Black performing artists whose voices have not yet been heard loudly enough – at the Arvada Center or beyond.
“Amplify” was a proactive response to the racial reckoning in America that has arisen from the murder of George Floyd. All across the nation, individuals and organizations that may have counted themselves among those allied with the principles of equality and social justice are now taking long looks in the mirror.
The idea for “Amplify” began with Director of Communications Marcus Turner. He turned to Betty Hart (pictured at right), since named President of the Colorado Theatre Guild, to curate, direct and produce the series with Arvada Center Production Artist Pierce Murphy.
Hart initially selected 15 Black men to use the forum to communicate whatever they wanted through song, performance, dance and spoken word. She purposefully sought out Black men because, she said in June, “I thought of all the voices that need to be heard at this time, Black men’s voices are the most critical in light of the daily challenges they face simply to exist.”
Kenny Moten performed the traditional hymn now known as the Black National Anthem. Teenager Owen Zitek sang from Lauryn Hill's "Black Rage," set to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music." Veteran actor Cajardo Lindsey used his time to challenge the Arvada Center for its inadequate history of casting persons of color and urged the Center to move past past desire and into action.
"To use what you have for the good of all," he added.
"I can say that by amplifying Black voices and indigenous voices and voices of people of color and female voices, you are only going to amplify your own voice as a trumpet to be everything that you say that you want to be. And I believe that you want to be that."
President and CEO Philip Sneed agreed. "This is a catalytic moment,” he said. "We can no longer wait to take concrete, authentic and specific actions to address the values of inclusion, diversity, equity and access."
(Story continues after the video.)
Video bonus: The full 'Amplify' playlist
In response to "Amplify," YouTube viewer Patricia Salas wrote: "I have watched many of these performers in different venues over the last decade, but this series is amazing. We must circle the wagons and crochet a web of Colorado, national and international viewers. This is very important stuff."
The series was so well-received that Hart quickly produced a second season featuring 15 Black women. One was longtime performer and Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee, who said: “Whether it’s the boardroom, political arena, newsroom, theater world – and the list goes on – we are worthy to have seats at any table.”
Juliet Wittman of Westword said of ‘Amplify: “It’s a knockout — visually, aurally, intellectually and emotionally — with stunning performances and first-rate production values."
Actor Colette Brown chose to read a wrenching parental essay called “Today, I Cried,” in which a mother talks about her fears for her Black sons. It’s penned by Eboni B. Justice, a graduate of Denver School of the Arts, track coach and Denver Broncos cheerleader. Watch it here
“Today, I Cried”
By Eboni B. Justice
I cried today. Today, I cried. I looked into the faces of my two beautiful boys. My two beautiful Black boys, and I cried. I cried knowing that despite how intelligent they are, how well-educated they are, how successful they are, how well-mannered and respectful they are, it will not matter. I cried because the characters of my beautiful babies will not matter.
They will step outside of this home into a world that ultimately does not love them. A world that doesn't see them as human. A world that doesn't see the intelligence, the kind nature, the gentlemen we have raised them to be. No. This world outside of our home? This world will see my boys as criminals. As thugs. As deserving of whatever may come their way. As unworthy of life, simply because they were born Black.
I cried because my incredible Black boys will face a world much harsher than the majority in this country because of the color of their skin. Their Blackness will be viewed as a weapon. A weapon that somehow dehumanizes them and labels them as 'less than.' A weapon that isn't deserving of something as simple as a morning run, or a breath of air to fill their lungs. A weapon that can ultimately lead to their death.
I cried today. I cried thinking about the conversation I had with my oldest. Thinking how I shouldn't have to have this conversation. Yeah. We had the conversation. Thinking about how many Black mothers have to have this same conversation with their children. Not out of desire. But as a necessity for survival in this world we live in.
I cried at the words of my son: "I am scared of the police, and I don't feel safe." The people who are supposed to protect and serve are the ones my child fears the most. The ones killing people just like my little Black boys. Who can my son go to when he's in danger? And the ones who are meant to keep him safe see him as the danger?
I cried thinking how my son learning to drive should be a joyous milestone in his life. But the celebration got cut short. Instead of giving him the safety protocol when driving, I have to give him the safety protocol when being pulled over.
• Always drive with your license in the cup-holder so if you are pulled over, you can put it on the dashboard before the police get to your window. You don't want to reach for anything.
• Remember: The first thing you do is turn the light on once the car is in park. That way everything is seen and nothing is mistaken for a weapon.
• Keep your car as clean as possible, and put your sports bags in the trunk.
• Always ... always keep your hands on the dashboard. You don't want to move them at all.
• And remember, son: No matter how degrading or disrespectful the officer may be, you comply. Do not talk back. Do not resist. You could lose your life. I'm serious, son.
I cried today. I cried thinking, knowing, that someday I will have to have this same conversation with my youngest. My heart wants to be hopeful, but I also need to be realistic. I need to be realistic for the safety and survival of his precious life.
I cried knowing so many will view this loving boy in such a negative way. Not in the way we see him, or for the boy he's been raised to be. But for whoever and whatever people perceive as due to his race.
I cried today. I cried knowing that there is a limit to the worth of my boys' lives in some people's eyes. Some people that I even once called friends. I cried because these people don't understand or even try to understand that my boys will never be able to have a comfort zone in this country. Instead of being afraid of losing a position or even friends, my boys will be afraid of losing their lives.
I cried today. I cried knowing that many Black mothers are crying with me. Many Black mothers feeling helpless, drained and full of fear for their children. Black mothers depending on a system that has continued to fail us. A system in a country with two systems, and the one we and our Black children fall into is the one that desensitizes the injustices we face every day. A system where there is no true justice for us. A system that we have no control over, but which ultimately controls us. A system in dire need of reform.
I cried today. Today I cried. I looked into the faces of my precious Black boys whose lives do matter. And I cried. And I'm still crying.”
Direct video links:
In an ‘Amplify’ piece called ‘Bidden Biding,’ Jasmine Jackson dances to Nina Simone’s ‘Blackbird’. The cinematography is by Jackson herself.