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Black Freedom Symphony

BFS Blog Commentary-Shannon-Jeffries

Commentary: Movement One

but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical
dilemma/ i havent conquered yet

Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf

The first time I experienced The Black Freedom Symphony, this quote by Ntozake Shange came to mind. While BFS doesn’t compel us to conquer, it invites us to wrestle, rage, and question in the pursuit of our own physical and metaphysical freedom. One may see symphony and the accompanying playlists and believe that our hurt is harmonious, but the harmony is in our healing. BFS takes us there. Black healing is nuanced, unapologetic, contradictory, and raw – and so is our rage. Within the songs selected for this first movement, the flame of our fury spans decades and continents.


The title of the first movement, Hate We Live, is uncomfortably, and intentionally, familiar. In 2017, Angie Thomas published the YA novel “The Hate U Give,” a title inspired by Tupac Shakur’s famous THUG LIFE tattoo. The idea behind the ink was as simple as it was profound: there are catastrophic long-term implications of Black trauma in this country, not just for those who have experienced the trauma, but for everyone. “The hate you give” very boldly and clearly points the finger, while Hate We Live joins hands. The first movement speaks to the lived experience of Black people throughout the diaspora with songs about freedom, appropriation, and accountability (namely, the lack thereof). A few striking themes emerged while I listened, but as these themes unfolded, I remembered just how vast and ubiquitous our suffering is and has been.


Hate is Sensory: Hatred is experienced and carried by the body. Our senses are attuned to sounds, images, and smells that shape our daily lives. In Beyonce’s “Freedom,” racism sounds like thunder, striking and loud and disruptive. In KRS-One’s “The Sound of the Police,” racism is a police siren, or simply the image of blue and red lights flashing in your rearview mirror. We sense it so acutely because it is a matter of life or death.


Hate is Cultural & Spiritual: Blackness is a deeply spiritual experience, and so much of who we are is expressed through our culture. We interact, live, and create from an essential place; creation is a form of survival, of resistance. The appropriation of our culture is one of many ways we have been attacked and harmed culturally and spiritually. Mos Def’s “Rock N Roll” drives this point home with, “Elvis Presley ain’t got no soul.”


I remain burned and burdened by the reality that the hate that we live runs deep. It is not a moment or a circumstance. This hate is rooted like a tree bearing strange fruit. But the burden is a little lighter when I remember that I am not alone. Music has a way of connecting us to our experience and each other, and the Black Freedom Symphony gifts us that. While I may never conquer the metaphysical experience of being Black in this country, you better believe that I’ll dance my way through.


To freedom.

Shannon Jeffries is a storyteller, creative and nonprofit leader working toward access, equity, and justice in education. She enjoys writing about wellness and personal discovery and pondering questions she can't yet answer.