Dobson uses music to emphasize gender equality in BLM

Megan Ruane, Contributing Writer

Abby Dobson, self-proclaimed sonic conceptual artist, spoke on March 29 as part of the Black Body (Re)Considered series. The event was sponsored by the Griot Institute for Africana Studies, the departments of theatre and dance, philosophy, and music, the 2017 Diversity Summit, and the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Gender.

Dobson presented a lecture and performance on her work with the #SayHerName project and movement. Created by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), the #SayHerName project works to address black women’s experiences of police violence in an effort to support a gender-inclusive approach to racial justice that centers all black lives equally.

The #SayHerName movement responds to increasing calls for attention to police violence against black women by offering a resource to help ensure that black women’s stories are integrated into demands for justice, policy response to police violence, and media representation of victims of police brutality.

As a sonic conceptual artist, Dobson’s goal is to “transform people with energy that comes from sonic waves.” Her combination of R&B, soul, jazz, classic pop, classical, gospel, blues, and folk forges a gem that erases musical boundaries. She’s passionate about using music to create passion that inspires audiences to reflect on the world and engage in action to create transformative change in the world.

Dobson takes a lot of pride in focusing her music around hymns with spiritual backgrounds in order to reference aspects of life that came long before her.

“When you look at what’s going on in the news, you notice that what’s happening has happened long before you arrived, long before your mother arrived, and long before your grandmother arrived,” Dobson said.

She focuses her life on the idea that she’s more than a musician.

“I’m a singer and songwriter, that’s what I do, but I’m more than a singer, I’m an artist, and my job as an artist is to humanize black female bodies,” Dobson said.

Her passion to bring awareness to the issue of police brutality against black women through music came while she was marching down 5th Avenue in New York City with the AAPF prior to working with them on the #SayHerName campaign. While approaching the final stretch of the march, “Glory” by Common and John Legend began playing and Dobson realized she was being impacted by the music she was hearing.

It was during this time that while she was marching to stop police brutality against black men, there was no one marching to stop police brutality against black women. This experience encouraged Dobson to write the song “Say Her Name,” which ultimately became the music of the #SayHerName campaign.

The presentation relied heavily on the participation of the crowd. Perhaps the most influential aspect of the discussion stemmed from Dobson’s request that the audience stand up and only sit when they heard a name they didn’t know. The first three names were Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile. While few people sat down when these names were read, it wasn’t until the name Michelle Cusseaux was called that the entire audience was sitting.

Dobson believes art is a great way to understand the people who are next to you, the people who don’t look like you, act like you, or think like you.

“I hope my music and the video created by the AAPF creates a call to action, a call for us to remember, and a call for us to be in a community together with these issues,” Dobson said.

“I think her presentation was an accurate depiction of what the #SayHerName movement is about, and personally, as a black woman of color I find it inspiring that others are motivated to care about my livelihood in our current society. Her performance was a very powerful and visceral experience and I wish others could have the opportunity to understand it,” Ariana Fisher ’19 said.

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