Baltimore’s Arts Community Addresses Devaluation of Black Life with Upcoming JustUs Event

By Roberto E. Alejandro, Editor-in-Chief

“The length of Black life is treated with short worth,” rapped lyricist Yasiin Bey, then known as Mos Def, on the song “Thieves in the Night,” from the 1998 Hip-hop classic, ‘Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star.’

Eighteen years later, America is still grappling with the value of Black life. In the aftermath of the deaths of Baltimore Hip-hop artist Lor Scoota, and the police-involved killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, a group of Baltimore artists is seeking to create a space for expressing frustration over the devaluation of Black life, as well as for discussing related solutions, with an event titled JustUs (#JustUs).

“The theme (of the event) is ‘artivism,’ and our goal is to create a safe and healing community space through art and music.” explained Christina Cook, one of the principal organizers of JustUs, and founder of NEGUS CRE8, a lifestyle brand celebrating art, music, and clothing created by people of color.

The seed for the event was planted by Baltimore artist Shepsworth Bentley, founder of Paris/Tokyo Entertainment, who took to Facebook in the aftermath of the violent acts that not only took the lives of Sterling and Castile, but of five Dallas, TX, police officers as well, to express his desire for action beyond discussing these issues on social media. Born out of the conversation that ensued was JustUs.

“I didn’t know what to do at first,” said Bentley. “What do I do? I want to do something, but I’m not a protestor, I’m not a marcher, I’m not a militant guy. I am a peaceful man, and I want to build a sense of community. So why not do a community event that’s for the community, and kind of run by the community as well, and raise awareness there?.”

JustUs will be hosted by Baltimore Hip-hop artist Eze Jackson, and include performances by Quinton Randall and the Cleanse, Femi the Dri Fish, Kae Melody, and others. The event will also conclude with a community drum circle, the ultimate goal being to spur dialogue that will lead to the creation of community-led initiatives to address the problem of violence against Black bodies.

“When we say ‘protecting Black lives,’ or when people say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ it comes from a multi-faceted experience where Black lives are targeted in a multitude of ways,” said Cook. “So it’s not just going after police brutality, and it’s not just going [after] gang violence or Black on Black crime, there are a lot of threats to Black lives, and there are a lot of things that could make Black lives safer, more protected, within their own communities.”

Bentley’s hope is that the event will help all involved be accountable for their actions, or lack of actions, with respect to intervening in the question of Black worth.

“I just want people to come (to JustUs) with ‘A,’ an open mind, I want people to come and actually express themselves, and express how their frustration is with people, through art and music. That’s really what I want them to do, because music is very influential. If we have some good, positive music, in a good, positive environment, with good, positive vibes, then people will open up to each other.”

JustUs will take place this Friday, July 22, from 5-9 pm, at the Y Not Lot (NW corner of North Ave. and N. Charles St.).

This story was originally published by, on July 19, 2016.