Celebrity musician and founder Laval Belle held his third presentation, Black Minds Matter (BMM), a grassroots organization that mobilizes youth to register to vote. BMM helps to create and prepare African American youth to be leaders in arts, education and politics. Held February 27 at Charles R. Drew University School of Medicine, 1731 E 120th St. Los Angeles, CA 90059, the organization was motivated by the Ferguson shootings in St. Louis, Missouri.
Black Minds Matter was established in 2014, “we rode it out in 2015 out of Edward Waters College (EWC) in Jacksonville Florida, the second show was held at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, FL where we did a promotion with the Michael Brown Family for the anniversary of his shooting in St. Louis.
“After Trayvon Martin was killed, I wanted to do something to honor his memory and help young Africans Americans succeed,” states the BMM founder. “Education is the key and that’s how Black Minds Matter was born.”
“When I saw youth protesting, I felt that there had to be a better agenda, instead of just protesting or tearing up things.” I came up with three parts, voting registration, political activism, and attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Out of these three areas is what I am trying to inspire. I think its important that we condition our youth to think about voting, activism and education, particularly Historical Black Colleges at an early age as some of the other communities do, like our Jewish brothers and Hispanics brothers.”
The production consisted of a concert in the evening and voter registration in the day. The concert featured musical artists Canton Jones, Tom Browne, Bobby Lyle, Terralyn Ramsey and Laval Belle at the West Angeles Church North Campus 3045 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. BMM concert series emphasized musical art forms, Gospel, Blues and Jazz. During the musical, a scholarship portion was held in honor of 8 students who were awarded $1000 each.
“I want people to see those three components,” referring to one of the local students awarded that evening, “a girl name Kyla Lockette who is homeless and has a 4.0 grade point average and we are giving her a scholarship. A lot of kids will get a full ride to school, but they don’t have airline fare, they don’t have book money, so this is kind of a provisional scholarship.”
Earlier that day, during voter registration, President of the NAACP Los Angeles Branch, Minnie Hadley-Hempstead who spearheaded in partnership with BMM made a significant impression on how important voting is for African American youth. A former educator, she chaired the Education Committee for many years, states “they don’t have our history in the history books, voting is our voice, that’s our way of speaking and sharing. I don’t care how small every decision is in this country, it is a political decision and if you are not ready, you cannot share in the political decision.”
Further commenting on political activism, “It’s our way of saying we are participants, it effects us and we are going to participate. If you are not voting, you are not participating.” “You vote in our community, you have voter day to vote, and if you have a 20 percent turn out, when they make political decisions downtown, they will know you are not a strong community, but not if 90 percent of us come out to vote, every time they make a decision, their going to think those people voted, because they speak up, that’s why we vote because we want to participate in every single decision.”
On a post-Obama era, Belle reflects on how significant of Barack and Michelle’s impact on youth and in the White House, “I was very motivated when Barack Obama was a senator, I had met him, and our band performed for him and worked for his campaign. I anticipated him having two terms and he did. I think one of the best things Obama did is the thing I’m trying to do, which is to inspire youth of the future. He got young African Americans and other Americans to go to the polls early and a person following that mandate now is Senator Bernie Sanders, as he is trying to get the African American vote.
“I think to overlook our treasures of young African American people, particularly in college is a mistake, remember he had the most expensive campaign ever, I started texting because of Obama, he had the most youth to vote for him. He has a pretty good template or model for us to follow. If he can impact me as his peer, imagine kids growing up around the world. Name a president that walks out the White House for eight years with no scandal. They didn’t compromise their heritage, Michelle didn’t compromise her body, she wore her anatomy, she wore it proudly.
“The musician thoughts go beyond voting, education and politics, but to the impact of musical influence. The music that I bring is gospel, blues and rap, when I was growing up it was very normal to have concert bands in school, it was very normal for the school to sponsor us to go to symphonies.” He states regardless to one’s race or socioeconomic status, “it was apart of the curriculum that you were exposed to various genres of art, that’s not the case anymore.”
Belle refers to reality TV, dumbing down the community, “its not a lot education or culture being exposed. You want to make a society better, by allowing them to express themselves creatively, so our concerts have jazz with piano playing. I don’t want to just have kids coming to hear just one form of music, but I want them to hear forms of music, because we created those. It is important that children know we created jazz, blues, rap and gospel.”
On the significance of Black culture (i.e., combining education, politics and arts), “I think its important to allow young African Americans to express themselves, I think that we need to be provocative, we don’t have to ask anybody for an Oscar, we are an Oscar, we have to get away from wanting someone to hand us an Oscar.
“America’s music is created by you and I. Jazz is created by Black people, Rock and Roll was created by Black people, the greatest architectures in the world were the Egyptians. I look forward to our numbers shrinking, that they are not handing us something, I’m excited because it forces us to work together.”
On Beyoncé’s “Formation” performance at the 2016 Super Bowl promoting Black pride, “we are supposed to be proud of ourselves. The fact that we don’t value our own communities is what I want to change about young people. When I was playing drums with Earth, Wind & Fire, I noticed everywhere I went everybody was trying to be like us.” Belle remembers being in South Korea, where they wore their hats backwards, “everybody pays attention to us because we are original. Our kids need to know that you don’t have to change anything, you need move forward with some character. When you get a football contract like Jim Brown, you were expected to represent, it went without saying.”
On where he sees BMM going in the future, “I want to revolutionize HBCU schools, imagine if I took one HBCU and brought it up to date and market value. Belle refers to Donald Trump marketing strategies, (not endorsing his Presidential campaign) a real estate tycoon, “he can say whatever he wants to say, he has turned everyone upside down on their heads, because, he understands marketing. He says what people want to hear.” Noting that when you market your business or projects, it can enhance what your objective is. If I took one HBCU school and said hey Dr. Dre or Beyoncé come teach at this school once a month, what do you think the registration will be at that school? Imagine folks coming all over the planet just to come to that school, those are some of the things I want to do.
“I want to change our thinking at an early age. I want to get in the high schools and walk in their and say, you can really do this, that’s really the goal of Black Minds Matter. I just want to leave something a little better.”
He looks forward to awarding youth with 10,000 dollar scholarships. “I know our people, we have to see stuff first, we are animated people, so I have to continue rolling out productions. I want a two-pronged conversation going, I want to deal with the police brutality, but I also want to deal with the brutality in our community.”
For more information, to donate or purchase BMM merchandise, visit www.blackmindsmatter.com.