A circle of bodies created the soft beat of djembe and tambourine, married with spoken word, song and speeches. Sculptures of sheep, homemade alarm clocks and tipis woven by grapevines littered the stone walkways. People wore natural and wire forms over their bodies – autumn leaves and lilacs. Tables were filled with trays of wet clay to mold low-relief images, sand, screenprints, empanadas and strips of cloth to braid together. This is what filled the courtyard in front of Sojourner Truth Library last Friday evening, where dozens of people gathered from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., for the annual Sound Your Truth! event.
The event was initiated and organized by Eddy, “A self-organized interdisciplinary collective of faculty and staff. They are committed to deep empathy and active participation in social change,” founding member Anthony Dandridge said. “[It is an effort to] bridge gaps between disciplines, departments and institutions.”
The occasion itself is an interactive evening of creative sharing and collective expression, hosted to amplify and center underrepresented voices, held every year on (or around) George Floyd’s birthday. This year’s theme was Courage and was co-sponsored and co-hosted by the Department of Black Studies, the Black Lives Matter at School Collective, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, the Faculty Development Center, the Center for Student Engagement (Intercultural Relations) and the Oasis Haven psychological counseling center.
“The courageous message is clear: every voice matters, every story is significant and every truth deserves to be heard,” Dandridge said.
Andrea Frank is an associate professor of photography, whose Image in Context and Basic Digital Photo classes were involved in documenting the event. She shared more of what Sound Your Truth! is all about with questions such as: What needs to be said right now? How might our creative acts meet this moment? And how should the heart of our campus beat?
To begin answering these questions, a crowd of students answered Dandridge’s “clarion call to individuals everywhere to embrace and vocalize their lived truths, regardless of societal pressures.” Dandridge’s own Rap and Spoken Word and Intro to Hip Hop classes performed original work and collaborated with Jill Parisi-Phillips’ Contemporary Ideas in Printmaking class to create live printing matrices based on excerpts of student authors’ texts. Emilie Houssart’s Design Form class and Emily Puthoff’s Sculpture Situations weaved collaborative engagement sculptures. Micheal Asbill’s Sonic Measures class created sonic art and broadcasted it on the campus radio. Music therapy program students offered a drumming circle, which created the ensemble of percussion heard welcoming in passersby.
Various poets, songwriters, artists and public speakers discussed what it means to be validated, accepted, a part of a community and to amplify your voice. Marginalized students spoke about being oppressed and judged based on appearance.
Second-year journalism major, Quincy Simmons, performed his spoken word poem, “What Do You See?” “As a young male of color, I always wonder how people perceive me. Do I pose a threat? Do you see a menace to society? Do you make judgments based on the skin that I’m in?” he asked. “This poem is applicable regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability or religious belief. It is geared to educate and provide a safe space for healthy, constructive dialogue for marginalized populations.”
Nicole Fumai, a third-year ceramics major from Emilie Houssart’s Design Form class involved in the making of a cooperative project composed fully of compostable materials featured at Sound Your Truth! said, “As an artist, I love to see the collaborative work that people put together to create something meaningful. I am always looking for opportunities to educate myself on the experiences of underrepresented people and understand the world. This event helps to amplify those voices. That is so important.”
Others sang soulful original lyrics remembering the lives of marginalized communities that have been lost, including George Floyd, as well as their own personal struggles, and the cumulative fight for recognition and justice. Some gave speeches on their religious beliefs. Some shared stories of abuse and pain, their recovery, resilience and strength. Every single story and person was compelling and humanist.
Courage is knowing yourself. Courage is being proud of who you are while standing in the face of adversity to tell the world your truth. These students are powerful and share a powerful message that applies to every individual: to be courageous, to unite and to have difficult conversations about oppression, racism, homophobia, inequalities and stereotypes.
When combined, the Sound Your Truth! event is a profound platform that resonates deeply with many people who are intentionally invested in creating a culture where all folks feel genuinely seen and heard.
“I believe this event serves as a beacon of hope and empowerment, and I’m genuinely excited to see its ripple effect on our campus and beyond,” Dandridge said. This is a continuation and a lasting journey for social change, one step at a time.