There's little distinction for Aloe Blacc between being an artist and an activist. That's why the Laguna Hills native refers to himself as an "artivist." Blacc returns to Orange County this weekend with something to sing about. The musician is headlining a #SchoolsNotPrisons tour that stops in Santa Ana and is aimed at raising awareness around the school-to-prison pipeline.
"I developed a relationship with Community Coalition out of South Los Angeles," Blacc tells the Weekly. "They explained to me the concept of the school-to-prison pipeline and how some laws, rules and regulations within the district were adverse to the culture of learning." Activists point to zero tolerance policies, suspensions and expulsions for minor offenses at school disproportionately funneling youth of color towards a future behind bars.
Mike de la Rocha, founder of Revolve Impact and producer of the #SchoolsNotPrisons tour, approached Blacc about being a vocal supporter of their campaign, an invitation the singer readily accepted. Last year, the free concert series visited 10 cities throughout the state with stops at correctional facilities along the way. Rotating performers included Blacc, Ceci Bastida, La Santa Cecilia, Ty Dolla $ign and Immortal Technique.
Blacc will be joined onstage at the Delhi Center on Saturday by Maya Jupiter and Buyepongo alongside local musicians like Weapons of Mass Creation. The concert couldn't come at a more critical time for Santa Ana. Resilience OC, one of the partnering organizations for the event, released new data this week from Advancement Project California showing Santa Ana spends more money on arresting youth than investing in programs for them.
They project that by year's end, the city will spend $19.55 million on cuffing kids as opposed to $15.3 million on sponsored youth programs. Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities also points to a recent vote by city council to nix half-a-million in after school and arts programs.
With Blacc's 2013 music video for "Love is the Answer," off of his Grammy-nominated Lift Your Spirit album, the musician tried to highlight the school-to-prison pipeline by juxtaposing the lives of two black youth; one who becomes incarcerated and the other serving as his lawyer. "A student can be suspended for very minor infraction and that suspension could lead to the beginning of their record as a defiant student," Blacc says. "A lot of times those students end up slipping through the cracks."
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Growing up as one of the few black kids at Laguna Hills High School, Blacc didn't see the school-to-prison pipeline in action until later. "We didn't have that kind of oppressive policing but I felt it when I came to LA," he says. "There's probably more drug use going on in the suburbs than in the inner cities."
The singer sees alternatives in restorative justice practices, like substituting mindful meditation for suspensions. "Defiant students' problems and issues are quite deep," Blacc says. "Allowing school counseling and district psychologists to do proper assessments is necessary. When law enforcement gets involved, you're starting to create these dynamics in that student's psyche that may ultimately propel, not quell, defiance. I think it's important to take a holistic approach."
The power of music not only serves to heal, but can raise awareness around the school-to-prison pipeline like at this weekend's concert. "The energy at the events is really electric," Blacc says. "It's good to see the young folks out. Everybody wants to know that their voice matters."
Aloe Blacc headlines the #SchoolsNotPrisons concert with Maya Jupiter, Buyepongo, Weapons of Mass Creation and more at Delhi Center, 505 E. Central Ave., Santa Ana. Sat., 3 p.m. - 7 p.m. RSVP for Free. All ages.