Since the inception of EJS, the arts have been a critical, vital, and essential part of our work of transforming the nation’s consciousness on race and racism. Years ago, our friend and former communications consultant Elaine Elinson told us about this remarkable performance she experienced and suggested we get in touch with Zaccho Dance. We reached out to Joanna Haigood, the brilliant award-winning spirit that leads Zaccho Dance.
Our meetings with Joanna later included our other artistic genius friend Marcus Shelby, who we have worked with since our founding. These discussions led to the creation of a piece that has been presented around the country “Dying While Black and Brown,” an artistic meditation on the racism inherent and present in the imposition of the death penalty.
“Dying While Black and Brown” debuted at our EJS annual gala held at Yoshi’s San Francisco in 2011. Around that time, Californians were being asked to eliminate the death penalty through the initiative process. Prior to the mesmerizing dance and musical performance that night, we were graced with the presence of Mr. Anthony Graves, a man who had been on death row in Texas for NINETEEN years for a crime he did not commit. His bearing witness to the cruelty of the death penalty—a cruelty both random and systemic—touched the hearts of all present.
At the end of that evening, a young man came up to me and told me that when he entered Yoshi’s, he was in favor of the death penalty, but the evening changed his mind, and he now was in opposition.
We have worked with Joanna and Zaccho for years. Their most recent work was the stunning dance that was an integral part of the Remembering 1619 performance at the SF Jazz Center in 2019. For me seeing Black people truly embodying the grief and triumph that our people have experienced on those shores was moving, uplifting, and occasionally just too much to bear.
Last week Joanna shared with me their latest work, “Love, A State of Grace.” From the first mesmerizing image of a body in motion, this performance you will see is awe inspiring and uplifting. Enjoy!!!