Thomas Jefferson High School’s Black Student Union (BSU), Federal Way Black Collective and the Multi-Service Center recently hosted a benefit concert to promote community safety in Federal Way.
Several local artists took to the stage with performances on Nov. 19. Raps, songs and spoken word poetry shared with the crowd touched on themes of gun violence and pain, of safety and community, and of love and change.
Evan Cook, a community safety liaison for the Multi-Service Center, hosts monthly community safety meetings for people to gather and discuss issues impacting their quality of life.
“A lot of people have been coming and giving great input, so … how do we get this out to the community? And I just felt like tonight was a good opportunity, really, to share what their feedback was.”
Cook was also looking for a new way to celebrate his birthday. About four years ago, he organized turkey and food drives which were halted during the pandemic.
“We always wanted to do something for the community … And you know what they say ‘A hungry man is an angry man,’” Cook said, quoting Bob Marley. Thanksgiving donations collected as admission to the event are helping feed 33 local families, Cook said.
In addition, he also wanted to support local talent and united the performers under one roof to inspire togetherness and community. He asked each artist to share a bit about their story, how life was when they grew up or were living in Federal Way to what they see and experience now.
“Maybe it wasn’t the same, maybe it was in certain parts, but how do we transcend it so that it’s not a perpetuated cycle like this,” he said.
Violence permeates many aspects of a child’s life, Cook explained. From media, music and video games to school cultures. The benefit concert aims to bring new messages through familiar avenues.
“I think it is the way to approach it. We gotta take literally the same tactics that were used to implant that violence in our kids’ minds and utilize those tactics to replace it with love and kindness,” Cook said. “And I think an easy way to do that is through the mediums they like.”
“That’s why we love these events because it just brings people together,” Cook said. “The more I can learn about you, the less I can hate you.”
The event was headlined by rap trio New Track City, of which two members are graduates of Todd Beamer High School. Additional performances by Federal Way locals included Thomas Jefferson English teacher and BSU adviser Jamarkus Springfield, JuJu Twotimes and TahJae Shante.
Josias Jean-Pierre, an author and motivational speaker, performed a new piece titled “Stop the Violence.” His spoken word called on people to avoid turning a blind eye to injustices: “Your voice is the voice of change / so please speak up.”
His words rang throughout the auditorium, telling his story of the difficult decision he must make with his wife, as a newlyweds, to have children in today’s climate of increased gun violence and decreased safety for kids, especially youth of color. He wondered aloud if one day, years from now, he will be one of the parents who picks up the phone and learns their child has become a victim of gun violence.
One of his verses, in part, shared: “Why is it becoming so common for parents to bury their seed? / Life expectancy today is 18.”
Jean-Pierre talked about the recent shooting at Ingraham High School in Seattle on Nov. 8 during which a 17-year-old student was killed. The 14-year-old suspect was charged Nov. 14 with first-degree murder, first-degree assault and unlawful possession of a firearm. In the coming weeks, a judge will determine if the boy will be tried as an adult. A 15-year-old student was also charged due to his alleged assistance in the shooting. His case remains in juvenile court. Both suspects are in custody.
You can be the change, he urged the community members in attendance. It takes love, he said, the embodiment of loving your community, walking in love, and demolishing hate with love.
“I need you to be the love / love is essential when it comes to effective change.”
Community safety tips
Five things to keep your community safe, gathered from Cook’s community safety meetings:
1. Get to know your neighbors
2. Take care of your neighborhood
3. Get involved with your community
4. Illuminate dark areas (advocate for street lights)