What is a Solidarity Dividend?
The title of our concert comes from a book by Heather McGee called The Sum of Us: What racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together. Our prospering is the dividend we all receive when we work together across real and imagined differences. These dividends are life affirming.
As artistic expression moves inside of us and we allow it to propel us into action, we gather momentum to change the world through sharing music that transgresses boundaries and builds understanding towards peaceful tomorrows.
As I think about this concert, I am reminded of a talk by Bryan Stevenson, the activist lawyer and author of Just Mercy. Stevenson outlined four ways to change the world:  get proximate,  change the narrative,  stay hopeful, and  understand you may feel uncomfortable. I think his four ways to change the world are happening in the World House Choir’s upcoming concert we have entitled, Solidarity Dividend: Art in Action.
Stevenson emphasized that change was impossible when working at a distance [get proximate.] He urged us to find a way to get close to the neglected, the marginalized, the formerly incarcerated— it is proximity that communicates. How else will we hear and see the stories of their lives? He also cautioned that you may feel uncomfortable. My mentor, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, always said when you are building coalitions expect to feel uncomfortable. How else do we break through our inertia or our feeling of powerlessness to grow and change?
Over the last 31 years, I have been privileged to conduct choirs of incarcerated people inside four of Ohio’s 28 prisons. One of my many dividends was to hear brilliant story telling through rap music created by these choir members behind prison walls. The continuity of story telling in African American music is centuries old. The West African story-teller/griot revealed everything in the community to the community.
Many of the individuals who sang with me are now out of prison and it is a distinct pleasure to welcome these returned citizens [contemporary griots] to share the stage with the World House Choir in this significant and powerful collaboration.
Dividends are what we all gain when we work in solidarity. Let’s make it happen.