Music and social justice are inextricably linked in American history, and on October 19 at the Lincoln Theatre, the two will converge once more for JusticeAid’s 7th annual concert featuring Mavis Staples and special guest Amy Helm.
JusticeAid is an organization that promotes justice through arts by selecting a civil rights organization each year to support with funds and partnering events to spread education and awareness about their mission. This year’s organization is Neighborhood Defense Services (NDS) PACE program, which addresses police misconducts experienced by marginalized individuals. They provide resources while working to reimagine community safety and fight for police accountability.
All proceeds raised from the concert will go directly to NDS PACE. When choosing this year’s organization, JusticeAid’s founder and CEO Stephen Milliken explains it was not a difficult decision.
“Neighborhood Defense Services is probably the most progressive defender organization in the country,” Milliken says. “They do a holistic representation of individuals who get ensnared in the criminal legal system. We wanted to support them not only in that work but after the murder of George Floyd, we wanted to work with them on their new initiative called PACE, which is police accountability community empowerment. We felt that was the most significant civil rights issue in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s going on in America today.”
The concert’s headliner Mavis Staples could not be a better fit for the night’s purpose. The Blues and Rock ‘n Roll Hall Fame icon has spent her entire career championing justice using her voice. With a large repertoire of songs carrying powerful messages for social change, like “Long Walk to D.C.” and “When Will We Be Paid?” Staples has been a leader in civil rights movements since the mid-1960s.
“I can’t remember when I was not listening to Mavis Staples,” Milliken says. “A quote we’ve highlighted from her in our materials is, ‘I’m the messenger and can’t just give up while the troubles still alive.’ I can’t think of a more apt blend of movement and music than she embodies in every cell.”
Along with the civil rights music legend, there will also be a performance from Grammy-winning folk artist Amy Helm. A scholar in music, Helm is a multi-talented and plays several instruments to accompany her powerful vocals. Despite her busy touring schedule since the reopening of venues, Helm is looking forward to Tuesday night’s performance and its mission.
“[JusticeAid’s mission] is profoundly important work,” Helm says. “I don’t say I’m honored to be part of it in any light way: I’m truly honored to be part of it.”
Prior to the concert, JusticeAid is hosting a book talk at Busboys and Poets with Professor Kristin Henning about her new book “The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth.” The conversation will start at 5 p.m. and Henning will discuss her book with Professor Angela J. Davis. While the event is already sold-out, incorporating education about police accountability is also part of JusticeAid’s larger mission.
“We immediately realized that it’s not enough to just hold a concert raise money and give money for [the selected] organization,” Milliken says. “We needed to create a public forum in which we could educate people about the issue, because the issue will be on people’s minds, and we can provide them a deeper understanding of the challenges.”
If people are unable to attend Tuesday night’s events, JusticeAid has options for people to donate on their site. Despite years of activism, when comparing to other social issues and causes, Milliken notes civil rights organizations are some of the least funded in the philanthropic world.
“People support hospitals and support schools. They support religious institutions, but there’s just a crying need to support social justice and other organizations that are increasing access to justice for people who have been discriminated against.”
The concert, if you can attend, will be a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only is it a chance to see top musical performers coming together, but also to support an organization significantly creating positive change. After spending the past couple of years cooped up and watching 2020’s news unfold, this concert is a chance to live again and fight for what is right. Live music has the power to bring people together and create community.
As Helm notes about returning to in-person concerts, “It’s this special, mysterious and kind of unknowable thing that happens in a live performance. It’s the same for a musician as it is for an audience member. The Holy Spirit enters the room — or whatever you want to call it — something enters the room and connects all the dots. The vibrational impact that live music can have is just a wonderful thing.”
Justice Aid Presents Mavis Staples and Amy Helm is on October 19, 2021, at Lincoln Theatre. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $35-$150 and can be purchased here. Justice Aid is also accepting donations which can be found here. To learn more about Justice Aid and its mission visit justiceaid.org or follow them on Instagram @justiceaid. Proof of vaccination is required before entering.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.