It’s been roughly six weeks since the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, left nine innocent people dead. The tragedy has prompted several fundraising efforts across the country.
Add a group of comedians in Brooklyn to that list.
The event was called Stand-Up for Charleston and was yet another example of the intersection of art and activism.
Six stand-up comedians and one DJ (DJ Chela) offered up their talents to a packed room at the Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.
While giving a speech recently, Dave Chappelle said, “The biggest enemy of an artist is apathy.”
If that is true, the people who contributed their creative talents to make Stand-Up for Charleston a success are doing their part to ward off the enemy.
Naomi Ekperigin welcomed the crowd and did her own set before taking on MC duties for the night. “I just want you to know that every dollar from your ticket purchases is going to Mother Emanuel and Project South. None of that 10 percent or 30 percent [stuff]. One-hundred percent of the money raised here tonight goes to those institutions,” said Ekperigin.
Organizers of the event told theGrio.com that the $3,600 raised would be split evenly between the two organizations. Additional funds from event sponsors will also go to the organizations after event production costs are covered.
People interested in donating to Mother Emanuel and/or Project South can do so by going to their respective websites: www.emanuelamechurch.org and Project South www.projectsouth.org (write “comedy show” in the memo line).
Project South is an Atlanta-based social justice organization that “directly challenges racism and poverty at the roots” through black leadership that spurs change via grassroots organizing, education and innovative programming. Earlier this month, Project South worked with black religious and spiritual leaders across the South to launch A Southern-Led Call to Action in response to the 10 black church fires that occurred after the Charleston massacre.
Emery Wright, the co-director at Project South, detailed how the money from the show would be spent. “Project South will use the funds donated from Stand-Up for Charleston to fund our continued work with young leaders on the ground in Charleston, SC, to support their organizing & community education efforts. We will also use a portion of the funds to launch a Building A Movement (BAM) Institute that will provide leadership development and skills building to a cohort of young black organizers working across the US South to eliminate State sanctioned police violence and build youth-led movements for positive change,” said Wright.
Ekperigin told the crowd that since the shooting, several funds have been set up for families of the victims, but Mother Emanuel is in need of over $3 million to repair and rehabilitate the historic structure. The money from the ticket sales would go towards those expenses.
Though the reason for the fundraiser was somber, all six comedians gave their best to provide laughs, and they accomplished their mission. The diverse crowd of almost 200 people frequently broke out into belly-aching, crying laughter as the jokes kept coming.
Comedians Seaton Smith, Aparna Nancherla, Michelle Buteau, Hasan Minhaj, Kevin Avery, Myq Kaplan and the double duty comedian/host Naomi Ekperigin represent a wide range of races, ethnicities, life experiences and material.
Myk Kaplan made a pretty strong argument for kids being like drugs, Hasan Minhaj talked about how his white friends are entirely too excited about anything “ethnic” (like his Indian wedding) and Michelle Buteau made the crowd part of the show by having a hilarious interaction with an unsuspecting audience member named Nancy. Each comedian exited the stage to hearty applause.
Event organizer Miriam Fogelson said that she spoke with a Mother Emanuel church member over the phone about the fundraiser, and the woman was brought to tears by the gesture.
Wright, who attended the show, believes art is a powerful tool for social change.
“Similar to the Arts, we believe that political change is always about taking risks and telling the truth,” Wright said. “Whether it’s a performance by Paul Mooney or scaling a flagpole to remove a potent symbol of racism, both art and political change is also about taking action. […] Generally I think artistic spaces and production are great ways to spread the word about social justice issues and need to be infused within our social movement work.”