Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service series that highlights groups and people worth knowing in Milwaukee. To nominate a person or a group, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Spotlight" in the subject line.
When you think of the sounds of protest, you probably think of hundreds of people chanting in unison or a speech being delivered.
But with the release of “2020: The Vision,” Running Rebels Community Organization is stressing human connections during a time when our world has been rocked by a pandemic, protests and a nail-biter presidential election.
“Everyone was upset. Everyone was fed up. So we decided to come together and put it all into words,” said Victor Barnett Jr., who goes by RB Vic and is a longtime Running Rebels youth and rapper featured on multiple tracks.
The album was released on Aug. 13, the 40th anniversary of Running Rebels, a nonprofit organization that engages, mentors and guides Milwaukee youth.
“2020: The Vision” is a collaboration with the 300 Strong project and several local musicians and focuses on issues that the creatives say have been building up within them throughout the year.
"We’re the scribes and storytellers"
Britt Nicole, a spoken word artist who works with Running Rebels youth, said artists are uniquely positioned to stir people to action.
Projects like these make it difficult for people to ignore the subjects they touch on, she said.
“As a creative, we’re the scribes and storytellers. It’s up to us to paint a picture,” Nicole said. “Some people fail or refuse to see the world as it is, but when art is in your face, you can’t deny it.”
Nicole opens the album with “SOS,” a spoken word piece that sets the tone for the project.
“Black lives been mattering
you’re not a trend, never been
you’re more than marches and riots, mass incarceration
you’re change agents
shifting mindsets and policies and situations with your celestial presence.”
Nicole said she was motivated to participate in part because she felt hard conversations about racism in our everyday lives are not being had, and that the conversations that do happen often revolve around looting.
“The fact that we still have to constantly say ‘Black lives matter’? That’s exhausting,” Nicole said. “We’re making a spectacle out of it and not having real conversations. Until we’re having real conversations, the needle is not going to move.”
“2020: The Vision” is not the only example of young people creating art that accompanies larger social movements.
Leaders Igniting Transformation’s “C-Space” project launched earlier this year to provide a space for young Black and Brown creatives. The local nonprofit Arts@Large’s Sacred Garden project allows poets to add their skills to social movements as well.
Alongside these and other projects, Dae Flywalker said the album is meant to be a time capsule capturing what young artists are thinking and feeling during a challenging year.
“When we do get to a point where we’ve healed as a country, we want to look back on projects like this as a kind of time capsule of reminders of where we came from,” Flywalker said.
“Twenty years from now, people are going to be able to come back to this project and take words that inspire them to creative positive change in their own lives.”