By Jennifer B.

Friday, November 20th was the first night of the new Racial Justice Fellowship series, “Jazz Café: Music, Race, and Conversation.” The event was hosted by St. John’s very own Robert Messore. Our featured artist was Manny James, a recording artist, songwriter, and composer who was born and raised in New Haven, CT.

We watched two live performances from Manny’s YouTube channel: Dear America and Never Let Go, and Manny took questions from the attendees. Dear America is his personal letter to this country, which he was inspired to write after the death of Sandra Bland. The song describes his pain at being stereotyped and misjudged as a Black American. In Dear America, Manny beautifully and heartbreakingly questions whether he can expect to enjoy the freedoms we are told are our right as Americans.

Manny told us a bit about growing up in the Church Street South area of New Haven and about the stigma attached to coming from a neighborhood associated with crime and poverty.  He eloquently expressed his desire to give back to the community and help young artists advance through his independent record label, Church Street South Entertainment.

We asked music related questions about topics like Manny’s favorite artists, his songwriting inspirations, and his experiences in the music industry. Manny also shared some of his experiences and perceptions of racism and his hopes for the progression of racial justice in New Haven and beyond.

Manny’s testimony was touching and inspirational that some members were moved to the point of tears, and many of us expressed gratitude for his willingness to be so warm, open, and gracious in his delivery. To hear more great music from Manny James, check out his Spotify and YouTube page.

Former St. John’s member Suzie Luchs was nice enough to share this yard sign for those who might be interested in using it as an outward expression of support for racial justice.


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