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Terence Blanchard: Music, Social Justice and Raising Awareness About Violence Against Black People

Christine Passarella By

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A few years ago, I was applauding as the cast of Motown was taking their bows on Broadway when I recognized a mother's face sitting across my row. Without question or trepidation, I felt compelled to say something, hopefully comforting, to Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. In addition to my heartfelt condolences for the tragic violent death of her son, I told her about my Kids for Coltrane work, and she smiled with warmth and an appreciation hearing my work brought children together to think critically inspired by the legacy of John Coltrane. Her face and the emotional energy from that chance meeting stirs me to this day.

With a heavy heart, I struggle with the knowledge that there are mothers and fathers who lost children to senseless horrific racism. It is a fact Sybrina Fulton has dedicated herself to keeping her son's name alive, in so doing his tragic loss was not in vain. She must wake every day with the hole that burns in her heart from the unimaginable injustice which took her son away from her and ended a precious life that should have lived fully and completely. "Rest in Power Trayvon, it makes no sense to get angry or mad and do nothing. Get angry, get mad and get to work." Sybrina

When I listen to Grammy Award winner, internationally renowned jazz trumpeter, and composer Terence Blanchard I hear the human heart, I hear nature, I hear God's divinity speaking through humanity. He is on a Coltranian journey which I define as a life guided by a loving purpose. His sound brings joy, celebration, tenderness, and in his latest albums, there is no doubt I can hear crying which comes from the sorrow of injustice and devastation from the murder of unarmed black people. I hear him wrestle with the pain of the senseless loss of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and police officers killed in tragic violence.

The music creates the continued cries that wail, this must stop! I hear the essence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X who continue to teach us all by their example. And I hear the heavy heart of Terence Blanchard asking why this way of life continues in which people only see their truth, instead of embracing the responsibility of all citizens to understand each other's truths, to bridge all the gaps to form one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all, and reaching further across the entire globe.

In Terence you know you are speaking to a man who loves all people and his empathy comes right out of the horn. Coltrane said, if you live the truth it will indeed come out of your horn. For Coltrane, it was the saxophone and for Terence, it is his trumpet. But he does not do it alone, as he leads his most recent band, the E-Collective. Terence Blanchard has created socially conscious music with his bandmates. In his albums Live, Breathless, and Choices he leads the way as a force for good in the battle against evil and leads the way with an angelic command for kindness to flourish. Accompanied by his exemplary bandmates he courageously and willingly carries the cross in a hope that people examine their biases. The E-Collective includes guitarist Charles Altura, bassist David Ginyard, keyboardist Fabian Almazan and drummer Oscar Seaton.

Terence is also encouraged by John Coltrane's example and message. He found himself deeply moved by John Coltrane's A Love Supreme when in high school. Highly valuing the chant-like quality in John's amazing music, he knew the saxophonist played in tune with what was happening in the universe. Music for Trane was about making a statement according to Terence. The first time he heard Coltrane's masterpiece "Alabama" he was stopped in his tracks, and he said it made him cry like a baby. The song will never let us forget the deaths of Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, who are the precious children killed in 1963 by members of the Ku Klux Klan, at the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. Coltrane's song "Alabama" also helps us heal, and remember so we continue the conversation to bring change through hope and action.

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