Dayton’s Gem City Shine draws major entertainers to celebrate life and resilience

By Natasha Ivery

Rapper and musician ThunderCat called the people of Dayton “unbreakable.” Chance the Rapper called us “extremely special,” while expressing his appreciation to the families and neighbors who represent love and healing. Talib Kweli said there’s nothing to fear, and comedian Jon Stewart said we’ve reclaimed the area.

Photo cedit: Tony Smith

Photo cedit: Tony Smith

These were a few of the heartfelt thoughts echoed at Sunday’s Gem City Shine block party where, in less than a few weeks, comedian and Yellow Springs native Dave Chappelle managed to pull together a star-studded lineup of celebrities to uplift the community after an Aug. 4 mass shooting killed nine people.

The free benefit concert drew an estimated 25,000 attendees to the Oregon District, reconnecting at the site where the shooting happened.

“The best way to honor our fallen is to get up better than ever before,” Chappelle said. “We will not let them die in vain.”

Kyle Fleming, a local spoken word artist and teacher at the Dayton Early College Academy, said the event was a beautiful way to celebrate the community’s resilience.

“It’s a term we call ‘rhetoric remediation’ where we take the worst parts and remix them into something beautiful. I think that right there is the essence of Dayton,” said Fleming. “It’s dope that we did this right here in the Oregon District, but I hope we keep this up annually and not lose momentum.”

ThunderCat and Talib Kweli performed as Chance the Rapper played a slew of hits from his new album. Rhythm and blues songstress Teyana Taylor gave a tearful tribute, showing a personal slideshow for the victims and bringing her 2-year-old daughter, Junie, to sing onstage.

The concert spilled out of the Oregon District and into the intersection of Wayne Ave. and Fifth St. where the main stage sat. Local businesses had long lines for food and drinks – with food trucks in the parking lot of Omega Music – and had merchandise available. Large flat-screen tv’s lined the street for concertgoers to see all the acts.

The event had a relatively quick turnaround, but Chapelle knew he wanted to do something special.

“This is one of the best days of my life. Y'all are my friends and neighbors, and I love y'all,” he said while bringing out Stewart and soul legend Stevie Wonder. Wonder, who performed a few feel-good classics, closed the night with a jazzy rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Chappelle whose birthday was Saturday.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley also declared Aug. 25 as Dave Chappelle Day.

Mariah Johnson, cultural organizer with the Ohio Student Association, reflected on the moment.

“I hate that tragedy brought us here, but I love and am grateful for what it turned into,” she said.

But Johnson, who is also involved in other Dayton projects, said that while she appreciates the event’s intentions, she wishes more local artists were involved.

“We performed a separate, smaller show on our own earlier in the day,” she said. “It would have hit harder to have local artists cultivate a different kind of culture of support.”

Perhaps most notable from the weekend was the presence of Kim Kardashian-West and Kanye West. Spotted by crowds on Friday, the couple visited places all over town, including the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, RiverScape MetroPark and the Cheesecake Factory at The Greene Town Center in Beavercreek.

In a surprise announcement via Twitter Sunday morning, Kardashian-West revealed that West planned to host his weekly worship event, Sunday Service, at the RiverScape MetroPark downtown. “In support of the victims and survivors of the Dayton mass shooting,” the tweet said.

West delivered a show, flanked with a choir comprised of students from Central State University and Wilberforce University and members from area churches.

Chappelle addressed the crowd, talking about the city’s strength, and celebrated triumphing through trauma.

“Listen, we’ve been through a tough time,” he said. “Klan rally, tornadoes, we’ve been through a shooting, but we’re still here.” The crowd clapped and hollered “amen” in agreement.

“They are our friends, our neighborhood heroes. Gem City Shine, shine on. I had my friends travel in from all over the country to tell you how much you’re loved,” Chapelle continued. “Dayton is a city of epic proportions.”

The crowd enjoyed and worshipped through songs, tears and laughter led by West and the Central State University choir director.

Gem City Shine was a spiritual awakening for the city to celebrate life, resiliency through trauma and the undeniable, fierce spirit of Dayton.

You’ll always be our friend, Dave. Thank you.

EssaysZack Frink