3.24 Justice in the Songs of Life

There’s a major gift out there that I believe often goes unnoticed. I think it should be considered a precious, precious philanthropic contribution to social change: Music. I’m talking about home grown, cross-cultural, multi-generational, movement building, social changing MUSIC. I think good music with a message can motivate people to take action, plus it embodies all three of the big T’s (Time, Talent, and Treasure).

I personally believe that music and songs have played just as much a role in fighting injustice as money or volunteerism. I’m not just talking about the emotional power of freedom songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” or “We Who Believe in Freedom,” I’m also talking about life altering songs that socially educate and enlighten us.

Imagine, if you will, a little girl stretched out on the living room floor in front of a Zenith floor model Allegro stereo (with radio, 8 track tape player and record player) listening to Marvin Gaye asking “What’s Going On.” That was a pivotal moment for me in kiddy city (in my young life). I remember how shocked and empowered I felt listening to Steve Wonder’s roll-call of historical contributions of black people and people of color in his “Black Man” song.

Most cultures have songs or music that emotionally reach out and touch a person’s spirit or inspire them in some way. In my culture, in good times and bad times, two things have remained constants throughout our history: prayer and song. I encourage you to check out the documentary “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” it’s an inter-generational way to hear how music and movement building connect.

So if it’s been documented and most of us agree that the gift of music is valued, I’m sure you want to know why I feel a need to talk about it. I bring it up because I fear the messages that can motivate us through song and music are getting lost in the mix. Recently, when I asked one young adult if music and song still have the power to motivate her generation to fight injustice, she said it was “way less” than that of my generation.

That answer made me wonder if maybe we (philanthropic-fundraising sector) aren’t taking the time to stress or point out the power of an artist’s gift to helping us foster change and inspire support. Sure, anyone these days can use music as a vehicle for bringing a bunch of people together to raise money, but where in that are the true social messages and the questions that evoke inspiration in the listener?

I know that there are artists out there who do promote some form of social awareness in their music and songs. I celebrate their gifts, but many of those gifts are going unrecognized, they are being under valued. Even the musical talents of young people who play instruments are being diminished every time a school music class is eliminated.

I just had a scary thought: What if silencing or stifling the musical talents of our young people and quieting the social messages of artists through music and song are intentional efforts for stifling our cultural ability to motivate and mobilize our next-gen activist? Sounds like a conspiracy theory, don’t it?

What are your favorite songs that inspire you to justice?