Choreographing Social Justice

Artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph let the Groton community inside his multicolored mind during a Circle Talk in late April, as he shared his world view through poetry, opera, theater, and film.
The artistic director of social impact at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Bamuthi shared several examples of his work, including a video of “Love is the Only Word Sweeter than Black” from his original opera “We Shall Not Be Moved,” which the New York Times named one of the best classical music performances in 2017.  
“I don't really trust art that does not bleed, or sweat, or cry,” he said, prefacing a talk that oozed with more hope than pain.
Bamuthi described his education at the Dalton School in New York City and Morehouse College in Atlanta. “I learned early about hacking classical forms, hacking Western aesthetics,” he said, adding that he did not learn early enough to elevate Black joy and Black love.
To call him a multimedia artist hardly conveys his level of achievement. Bamuthi showed a clip from "About Face," a film series based on his poetry that traces the trajectory of Black fathers and sons; it premiered at Carnegie Hall.
“I’m a working artist making opera, theater, and dance,” he said, “and I’m an organizer who uses art for non-art outcomes.”
At its heart, the presentation was about changing the world—“If racism is structural, then anti-racism must also be structural,” he said—but the messages were tinted with optimism. “My job is social impact,” he said. “I don’t have time to not be hopeful.”
While a country may not be able to be systemically anti-racist, he observed, it can “aspire to systemic allyship or systemic solidarity.” Then, speaking as the dancer, he mused: “Is it possible to choreograph social justice?”
Bamuthi had his Groton audience imagine a world in which Black genius was normalized, in which Black history highlighted its proudest moments. “How can we design social justice if we don’t learn to love the best parts of our common history?” he asked.
The artist also spoke about various types of capital—intellectual, individual, political, natural, built, financial, and social—providing a healthy dose of perspective. “My kid is going to come over for dinner in about thirty minutes; that makes me wealthy,” he said.