Irvine musician throws anti-racism virtual concerts to raise funds for social justice organizations

A screenshot of April Faith-Slaker, a cellist and Wild Hum band member, performing live on Twitch.
A screenshot of April Faith-Slaker, a cellist and Wild Hum band member, performing live on Twitch.
(Courtesy of Hannah Rooth)

Many people are continuing to look for ways to support social justice and civil rights movements a few months after protests pushed forward a conversation on race and policing.

Deaths like that of 46-year-old George Floyd, a Black man who died during an arrest May 25 when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee on his neck for several minutes, put a spotlight on movements that have existed for years.

For the record:

2:55 PM, Aug. 20, 2020A previous version of the story stated the $1,158 donation will be doubled but the amount reflects the total figure collected, which was already doubled by a donor.

It inspired Hannah Rooth, a musician and recent Irvine transplant, to produce an Anti-Racism Fundraiser Concert series through Twitch live stream to financially support grassroots organizations and to educate the public, in particular white people.

Rooth was in the process of finding new local musicians to play in her band Wild Hum and exploring ways to perform without physical access to traditional venues. She set up solo online shows to help highlight newly released singles. But she soon shifted her focus.

“I started to focus on activism because of how hard the pandemic is hitting a lot of people,” Rooth said. “It’s making people realize in a more profound way how much we need to change about how society functions and who it protects. So I’ve been trying to put a lot of energy into doing online organizing work.”

Rooth’s first virtual concert to raise funds for social justice organizations was held on June 13. It lasted nine hours with about eight acts ranging from classical solo performances, folk and blues tunes to puppeteering.

She described the days before the event advertised on social media as chaotic — consisting of finding musicians, multiple WhatsApp calls and making sure every performer had the proper equipment and software for a live stream.

The event raised $2,000 and two donors matched the funds for a total of $6,000, which was donated to Don’t Shoot Portland, a Black-led civil rights agency that recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Portland alleging that police used excessive force indiscriminately.

“I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how much money we could raise or anything like that. But it went really well and it was well attended. So I decided to continue,” Rooth said.

A second show was held on Aug. 15 and raised $1,158. The amount is less than half of the funds raised in the first concert so Rooth extended the donation time period through Aug. 22.

A poster for the latest Anti-Racism Fundraiser concert hosted by Hannah Rooth featuring artwork by Barbara Jones-Hogu.
(Courtesy of Hannah Rooth)

Nikolas Cayden Henson, an Austin-based pianist and singer, who performed last Saturday under the moniker Caydmo, said he found out about the concert through Craigslist and wanted to contribute his musical skills to its cause.

“Back in 2017, when the Charlottesville tragedy took place, I was living in China. Reading about the gross injustices occurring in my home country, I felt far-removed and unable to help. Still, I knew I wanted to help in some way, and so at that point I started to educate myself on the realities of racism and privilege,” Henson said.

Another performer Carlos Vandal, lead singer and guitar player of the Chilean band Amoníaco, said he found out about the concert through other musician friends and the protests in the U.S. reminded them of police brutality in Chile.

“We are supporting these kinds of activities [because of] the current situation around the world [and] in Chile, our country. We are suffering from police and military violence, especially in the south where native Chileans are being killed and oppressed,” Vandal said.

Both concert videos and donation information are available on Rooth’s website. The total will be donated to Critical Resistance, an international organization created in 1997 whose founders include the likes of Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Rose Braz.

The organization is focused on ending the prison industrial complex by fighting plans to open new jails, organizing against policing and pushing to redirect resources towards community well being.

“Much of our work is done through long-term campaigns that often take years to win, so we don’t have too much rapid change in our work because we keep our eyes on the long term,” stated Mohamed Shehk, Critical Resistance media and communications director over email. “This year, we won two significant victories: We pushed the city of San Francisco to commit to closing a longstanding jail, and we abolished the gang policing unit of the Portland Police Bureau, a unit that almost exclusively profiled Black youth in Portland, Ore.”

He said when the organization receives donations, it goes toward the day-to-day essential functions like paying their small staff, printing informational flyers and organizing community events with food, translation and American Sign Language interpreters.

Critical Resistance was a part of a class about abolition work taken by Rooth recently to learn about what defunding the police means.

Rooth said, “It’s not just about getting rid of the police and prison system. It’s about actually addressing the root problems instead of just punishing people for reacting to them.”

Local Black activists will discuss next steps in the Black Lives Matter movement on Sunday at a “Reimagine Liberty” social justice forum in Santa Ana.

She isn’t new to anti-racist work.

“I’m a white woman and I was raised in a very white area ... in the Pacific Northwest and I started to get involved with anti-racist work when I left to do a yearlong volunteer program right after I finished high school,” Rooth said.

The program consisted of studying systemic racism while living and working in low-income communities, which were predominantly Black.

“I care about this topic in a more personal way because I have a couple of men in my family who have been in and out of the policing and prison system,” Rooth said. “I’ve seen firsthand how destructive it is to human wellness.”

She said one of her family members, who was suicidal and obtained a gun, ended up in jail rather than having easy access to mental health resources.

“Along with [economic impacts like difficulties in job searching after being released] there’s a real destruction to people’s identity and how they view themselves as being worthy in a society,” Rooth said. “That’s really painful to see in people that I love.”

Rooth will continue to curate virtual concerts supporting social justice organizations throughout the rest of the year. The next virtual concert will be held on Oct. 10. An application for performers who want to participate in future shows is available online.

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