Janelle Monae, along with surprise guest Stevie Wonder, gave a powerful performance at the #JusticeForFlint event in Flint, Michigan, on Sunday night, Feb. 28.
The BlackOut for Human Rights event, hosted by filmmaker Ryan Coogler and director Ava Duvernay, was in response to the ongoing water crisis in Flint. Monae and Wonder were joined by many other performers, including Jussie Smollett from Empire, Jazmine Sullivan, and Andra Day, who also supported the cause.
The event was held the same night as the Academy Awards, which was under controversy for having only white nominees in the actors and actresses categories for the second year in a row, sparking the #OscarsSoWhite movement. Janelle Monae, Ava Duvernay, Ryan Coogler, and others decided to skip the award show in favor of attending and hosting the #JusticeForFlint event. However, according to the Guardian, Coogler, director and writer of Fruitvale Station and Creed, insisted the #JusticeForFlint show was not in response to the Academy Awards. Instead, he said the show was meant to humanize the Flint water issue and bring it to light.
Governor Rick Snyder, as well as other Michigan and Flint officials, came under fire last year when the state appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source, causing lead from household pipes to contaminate the water. The Governor was slow to acknowledge the problem, and although he has since agreed to switch back to the previous water source, the contamination has already been done, allegedly causing an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease, as well as many other issues.
Although this event was very much about the issues, according to Mashable, Janelle Monae turned the event into a concert. Monae was first wheeled onto stage wearing a straight jacket before she began to sing her hit song, “Queen.” Janelle Monae wowed the crowd with her vocals, and gave everyone a full show, singing multiple songs. People crowded to the stage to watch Monae’s performance and everyone agrees she rocked it.
Janelle is killing this James Brownesque performance #JusticeForFlint— ADot (@aprilmaybpoetry) February 29, 2016
Monae made her support for Flint clear, with her band and backup singers all wearing “Justice For Flint” t-shirts and after a few songs, Monae than gave a short speech about her disappointment with Governor Synder’s lack of action. Following her speech, Monae did a few more songs before surprising the audience by bringing Stevie Wonder onstage. After he performed, Janelle Monae returned to the stage and invited the crowd to come up, as well. Monae, along with Wonder and the people of Flint, began chanting, “Clean Water Matters,” and “Flint Lives Matter.” Then together, Monae, Wonder, and the crowd sang Monae’s song, “Hell You Talmbout,” that she often uses during Black Lives Matter protests.
Janelle Monae’s inclusion of the people of Flint in her performance was a clear representation of how this event wasn’t about the celebrities, but about the people. Local activists, students, and performers of Flint also had the opportunity to make their voices heard. According to Revolt, locals talked about how the poisoned water affected their lives, and gave examples of using bottled water to brush their teeth and cook oatmeal. Janelle Monae shared many of these stories on her Twitter, including the heartbreaking story of a young black mom who lost her twins during pregnancy last year due to the crisis.
I spoke to a beautiful young black mom who lost her twin babies during her pregnancy last yr due to the #FlintWaterCrisis. THIS IS HORRIFIC.— Janelle Monáe, Cindi (@JanelleMonae) February 28, 2016
The event trended on Twitter for hours yesterday, getting recognition from people across the country. According to Ava Duvernay’s Twitter, the #JusticeForFlint event has raised almost $150,000 for the people of Flint and Duvernay, Monae, and others are continuing to urge activists to chip in. Janelle Monae wrote on Twitter, “Stay with the people. Stay in community. In the end that is what we will all find as human beings that mattered most once we journey on.” People can still donate by texting JUSTICE to 83224, and the money received will go to a community fund for the people of Flint.
[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Entertainment]