On the last leg of his tour through California correctional facilities, rapper and actor Common made a surprise appearance to a large crowd of Orange County locals at Saturday's #SchoolsNotPrisons event in Santa Ana.
"Put your hands up, tell my people in Santa Ana - 'Yo, we stand up, this is what we do how we livin' –
we talk about schools, schools not prisons," Common freestyled to the ecstatic crowd.
Over 900 people gathered throughout the day at the Delhi Community Center April 1, as the free art and music tour #SchoolsNotPrisons kicked off its second year of city and prison visits in the heart of Orange County. The event featured performances, art, and a resource fair that demonstrated grassroots goals to educate communities about the realities of government overspending on prisons and empower them to push back in demanding real community needs.
"I wanted to align myself with organizations that are about that so I can do the work, be apart of the policy change, and be active," said Common in a press conference before his surprise show. "Not only just rapping about it but being active in the change."
The event was held by LA-based social justice firm Revolve Impact, funded by the California Endowment and worked in collaboration with community leaders Project Kinship, Resilience Orange County, and Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities.
Claudia Torres, co-founder of Revolve Impact emphasized the event's focus on reinvestment in youth and not punishment and how that goal drives in which California cities the organization chooses to hold shows. With Santa Ana city council's recent decision to cancel $500,000 in youth programing, the event couldn't come at a better time.
"We pride ourselves in listening to people on the ground, finding out what's important to them, what they connect with and being able to put a show together that's comprised of what they connect with the most," said Torres. "Santa Ana is a good example, being able to mesh the different identities on stage, making sure the bathrooms were gender neutral, making sure the performers were well-representative."
Walking in to the event, the community-based focus was obvious. Co-founder of Revolve Impact Mike de la Rocha emceed, ushering in musicians, artists and speakers that reflected true spirit of SanTana. On a humble stage with a giant black and white backdrop "#SchoolsNotPrisons," groups like the LGBT mariachi band, Mariachi Arcoiris, Santa Ana High School Jazz Band, Wild Horse Drumming Group, and Weapons of Mass Creation came up one by one and offered their art passionately for the cause.
Throughout the day, attendees were welcomed to watch the performances, free food and gear, and a resource fair that provided information about healthcare, LGBT empowerment, and voting information. The walls of the building were lined with different artwork emblazoned with sobering facts about youth oversight, immigration issues, and incarceration statistics.
"This is something I find interesting because I am thinking of going into education," said Diana Rochat, 23, from Anaheim who attended the event with her sister and nephew. "I liked the music and enjoy seeing a lot of people are here with their families. The young ones too, I enjoy seeing them get involved."
Midway through the event, Rocha started to hype the crowd for the surprise guest. As Common moved to center stage, the excited audience of locals greeted him with cheers and raised hands. After a few words about the impact of his tours through California prisons, the artist, accompanied by DJ Yellow Black Bird, sang his Grammy-nominated hit "The Light."
Confidently he continued without a beat, delivering a flawless freestyle about Santa Ana and empowering the community to fight back against injustice.
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"Our hope is that we can do this in other cities that really need love and want to spread the message of the importance of reinvestment in youth," Torres said about the future of #SchoolsNotPrisons events.
Common's surprise performance might have been a highlight, but the crowd stuck around to enjoy performances by other artists who reflected the community values. Orange County native Aloe Blacc and sister act Maya Jupiter gave energetic performances, and local multi-rhythmic Latin band Buyepongo closed the show.
But Common's freestyle epitomizes the day and the event's overall goal. He finishes off:
"So we gonna keep it going, and yo we keep the vision...and once again we do it for schools not prisons."