In late December, Columbus native Correy Parks found himself holed up in the darkened, unfinished basement of a dilapidated home on the city's east side, begging for his life. "My hands is up," he cried, his voice breaking and near hysterics. "Please don't shoot!"
In late December, Columbus native Correy Parks found himself holed up in the darkened, unfinished basement of a dilapidated home on the city's east side, begging for his life.
"My hands is up," he cried, his voice breaking and near hysterics. "Please don't shoot!"
Though his words suggested a life in imminent danger, Parks, 26, was actually in the midst of recording "1 Down…1 Up," the standout track on his just-released EP The Layover, which he laid to tape at Paper Tiger Studios over the final months of 2014. The song, like a handful on the record, takes inspiration from the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that sprung up in the wake of several high profile incidents of black men being killed by the police, including the August 2014 death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson.
For "1 Down…1 Up," a visceral, open wound of a song, Parks envisioned himself standing in Brown's shoes during those final moments when panic calcified into the awful reality he was taking his last breaths.
"I really wanted to put myself in his position. What would I be thinking?" said Parks, who is scheduled to perform as part of hip-hop monthly Knock Five at the Summit on Saturday, Feb. 21, in a mid-February interview downtown. "Social issues have always been prevalent for me, especially being of two different minorities (the rapper is of black and Asian descent). I'm 6'3" and a bigger figure, and I have a round nose and nappy, curly hair, and I've had experiences where I could definitely tell I was being treated differently [because of my appearance].
"Even early in high school I would get pulled over [by the police] for nothing. Sometimes when you're young you don't realize what's going on, but you know something feels off. Now I'm an adult … and it's much more real to me. This is my vessel; this is my voice. And I have a duty to speak out and try to do my part."
Similar motivations have fueled likeminded responses among others in the local community.
In December, the King Arts Complex launched "Forceful Perceptions," an exhibit curated by artist-in-residence David Butler, who sourced 85 works from 13 local artists, all rooted in current events plaguing the black community. The exhibit runs through Saturday, Feb. 28. Additionally, jazz musicians Eddie Bayard and Mark Lomax gathered in a Capital University recording studio on a Monday in late December to record a three-movement work entitled #BlackLivesMatter, which the duo will mark with an album release show at Kafe Kerouac on Saturday, Feb. 21. Finally, a "By Any Means Necessary" rally spearheaded by Effective Steps Towards Resistance - a newborn collective comprised of community activists, student groups and others - is scheduled to take place earlier the same afternoon at Goodale Park in the Short North.
"Although the [Black Lives Matter] movement is new, the issues that spurned the movement - police brutality and the loss of black lives without justice - have been happening for a long time," said Nicole Barnaby, 26, a master's student in Ohio State's Department of African American and African Studies, and one of the organizer's behind Saturday's rally. "That's why we started Effective Steps. A lot of these things are systemic and hard to address … but we wanted to create something where we could see tangible results."
Chief among its demands, which were first presented to the Columbus Police Department following a late-November rally, the group is advocating for the establishment of an independent civilian review board that would be tasked with handling complaints about alleged police misconduct.
While activist groups have had success engaging portions of the community - a December rally on the Ohio State campus attracted roughly 200 protesters, according to a report in the Lantern - musicians, artists and other public figures (note the St. Louis Rams players who flashed the "hands up don't shoot" gesture prior to a November NFL game, or the various NBA stars, including LeBron James, who have donned "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts in tribute to Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer in July 2014) are able to keep the debate alive long after the chants fade.
"We're placing words in the air so they won't die," said Butler, 31, who is displaying a handful of his own works in "Forceful Perceptions," including the 12-foot-long painting "Open Season: The Walking Dead" that greets visitors upon entry. "We're keeping the conversation going."
It's a point echoed by drummer/composer Lomax, 36, who joined tenor saxophonist Bayard, 41, for a mid-February interview at a campus coffee shop.
"Max Roach said the role of the jazz musician is to be a chronicler of his time, so if you're a musician and you're not playing something that reflects the time you live in, you're not doing your job," said Lomax, who was born in Columbus to a theologian father and a reading specialist mother. "That's why I say I'm a shit starter. I'd rather make statements artistically that hopefully drive conversation … than go and play music everybody will love and get to eat steak at night.
"I don't think a lot of people have that I-don't-have-anything-to-lose mentality. They're waiting to put out the right thing so they can get the right gig and the right car and the right girl. I'd rather work a job and be happy to release whatever it is I need to release."
The duo's recording, #BlackLivesMatter, holds true to these words, building from the righteous anger of opener "Amerikkka," which hinges on a fiery sermon delivered by Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright ("Goddamn, America!" he rages as the song reaches its climax), to the soothing balm of "Black, Beautiful & Powerful," which incorporates snippets of Martin Luther King, Jr. at his most impassioned. "I want to get the language so right that everybody here will cry out, 'Yes, I'm black! I'm proud of it! I'm black and beautiful!'" King booms as Lomax ushers in low, rumbling drums that mirror the aftershocks of some distant earthquake.
Throughout, the two musicians, moving with a synchronicity honed over years of playing together, incorporate a wide assortment of sounds and styles.
"If you listen to it you can hear all of black culture," Lomax said. "There are moments that could be aleatoric music, which is a 20th century compositional technique; there are moments where you hear the black church and Eddie's horn is kind of growling and you can hear the call-and-response from a preacher to a congregation; there are moments of hip-hop rhythm, and moments of straight-up blues."
Thematically, however, the music is rooted in a single, uncomfortable truth: Ugly strains of racism and intolerance still linger beneath the progressive front America tends to project to the world.
"America is not what it could or should be, or what it presents itself to be," Lomax said. "America has a lot to offer, and you have freedoms here you won't get other places. Because of that, when something foul happens it seems isolated, and it's easy to cognitively put that in this box. But we see things happen every day to people that look like us. Every day-and-a-half a black person, usually unarmed, is shot and killed by a cop. We get pulled over more. We get stopped more walking down the street. Every day it can't be isolated."
In August 2014, Bayard experienced this firsthand when a 13-person S.W.A.T. team broke down the door to his home and briefly detained him at gunpoint in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. "He felt like if he said the wrong thing or made the wrong move he was done right there," Lomax said.
"We're reverting to this disposable mindset when it comes to black bodies," continued Butler, who utilizes painting as a means of working through his own complex emotions regarding issues of race ("You can't just go out and be angry; you need to funnel that energy into something positive," he said), as well as advancing the conversation among disparate groups.
In that regard, "Forceful Conversations" has cast an admirably wide net, attracting audiences ranging from a group of young offenders recently released from prison to Columbus Chief of Police Kim Jacobs, who toured the exhibit in January. All were subjected to the same, sometimes troubling images, which are designed to spark both internal and external debate about the value of black life in modern America.
"If we're trying to teach using art as a platform then we're not doing our jobs if we don't make you uncomfortable," Butler said. "Because out of discomfort comes education."
Furthermore, both art and music offer audiences a chance to experience the world through someone else's eyes, fostering a much-needed sense of empathy, according to Correy Parks.
"I feel like art in general is the great connector," said the rapper, who overcame a difficult childhood growing up in Woodland Meadows, sometimes referred to by its nickname Uzi Alley, where he was exposed to everything from underground dog fights to addicts freebasing crack cocaine in the public laundry rooms of the apartment complex, which has since been torn down. "Sometimes people can't put an issue in a light where it's personal to them, but, as a musician, you can paint a picture and make everyone relate to these ideas."
Though Parks started crafting his first rhymes at 22, it wasn't until he first listened back to "1 Down…1 Up" that he realized the potential power words could carry.
"I kept the headphones on, stepped back, closed my eyes and listened to how it made me feel, and it was like, 'This is what I'm about,'" he said. "Too often music is lacking empathy, and I wanted to make sure I felt those emotions: 'I'm begging you right now! My hands is up! Please don't shoot me!'
"There are some people that will post that hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) and not do anything else. Do you really feel it? Do you feel like you matter? Even at protests we'll say 'black lives matter' and someone will be like 'everyone's lives matter.' I get that energy, and that's the end game. But right now we need to build ourselves back up so people start remembering we're all humans, and we're a lot more alike than we are different."