Getting "Benefit" Concerts Right

By Molly ConnollyI got in late last night from Los Angeles where I was attending the live taping of an event entitled “Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America” that will air of A+E networks this evening. It was a star studded line-up with moving performances. John Legend and Bruce Springsteen opened with a tribute duet to the recent victims of gun violence, Nicki Minaj read a poem by Maya Angelou, they showed footage of Alicia Keys, Pherrell and John Legend engaging with the communities of Charleston, Baltimore and Ferguson. It was an emotional night. Performances were a combination of frustration, conviction, sadness, hope and determination emanating from the stage. Racially motivated violence is an issue that, like many things in the word today, seems so hard to overcome. It’s been so long. Why is there still racism and ethnic injustices that happen in our country today? And more importantly, what is a concert going to do to about it?This was the question I was confronted with the most by friends and colleagues whom I told about the event in LA. It seems superfluous for the elite to sit comfortably in the ornate Shrine Auditorium in a city fueled by power and wealth and be serenaded by Sia and Big Sean, while there are families sleeping on the streets a few blocks away and failing schools the next block over. It’s a question I’ve been wondering myself for a while now through my work at The Clapham Group. A few months ago, we gathered 50 Evangelical leaders and influencers down the street from this very auditorium to ask these same questions on race and injustice in America and the unique role that the church has in this conversation. As we sat over Bourbon street soul food amidst the construction that has taken over downtown LA, the hip hop artist Propaganda shared memories of growing up down the street in Inglewood, CA and how the gentrification of his neighborhood affected his view of white people and how he relates to the world. Familiar drug dealing hangouts turned into yoga studios almost overnight are just asking for conflict.That night, we went to a U2 concert together and as Bono sang..”Sunday, bloody Sunday.. How long must we sing this song?” the lyrics took on new meaning for me.  I reflected on our conversation that afternoon: We all agree that things need to change, but what’s the best way to engage the public and make it happen?Back at the Shrine, my mind turns to the artists in these “benefit concert” scenarios, maybe because I am an artist myself. Artists are the talent, the glitz and glamor of these events. They are what draw us in and encourage us to give, to act, to support. But ultimately, it is not up to them or the concert itself to enact change. They are the public face of these causes and campaigns, but it is unfair to blame them when a campaign doesn’t make an impact.At the end of the day, celebrity endorsements will not fix these systemic problems. But I think the celebrities know that. This message is for all of us who may be too quick to put that burden on the stars. Let’s let them do their job and stop asking them to work outside their gifting to perform social miracles that in the end, take partnerships of all kinds. Complicated problems have complicated solutions. It’s going to take a combination of grasstops and grassroots approaches to make a dent. Our job as citizens, as humans, is to look these issues in the eye and then turn the mirror on ourselves and ask what we can do. I’m hopeful for this concert and the fund, powered by The United Way that will produce grants of all sized to promote work toward racial reconciliation. It stemmed from a genuine desire on the part of Pherrell and the executives at A+E to want to make a difference, but the work is not over. It’s up to the viewers tonight to initiate the real change and make a lasting impact. So tune in, enjoy the show, and then do something.    (photo via