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Birmingham Councilor Crystal Smitherman: Empower Black Artists to Tell Their Stories

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Birmingham City Councilor Crystal Smitherman (PROVIDED)

By Crystal Smitherman | Special to The Times

It would be impossible to calculate the massive impact that Black culture has made on the world – from art, to dance, to music to fashion and so on.

The arts serve as a mirror reflecting the diversity of human experiences, yet historically, Black artists have been marginalized and their stories neglected. This inequity not only diminishes the richness of our cultural influences but also perpetuates systemic injustices. It is imperative that we confront this issue head-on and actively support programs that uplift historically underserved communities.

In Birmingham, we have such a rich pool of young talent. This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet and talk with students from across the city at several events. The one topic that kept coming up is representation. As an attorney, it’s something I reflect on quite a bit because only around 5 percent of lawyers in America are Black; that number is even smaller when you are talking about Black women.

Whereas numbers can vary depending on the studies, Black people only represent less than 10 percent of people who work professionally in the performing arts. Given the significant contributions that we have made in the entertainment realm, it’s fair to say the “math isn’t mathing.”

Supporting Black representation in the arts is not just a matter of cultural enrichment; it is a matter of social justice. When we empower Black artists to tell their stories and share their perspectives, we challenge existing power structures and promote a more inclusive society. Moreover, investing in programs that serve historically underserved communities helps to address systemic inequalities and create pathways to success for future generations.

Three years ago, I felt compelled to do my small part to help address the lack of representation of Black voices in the arts. I’ve partnered with the Red Mountain Theatre Company to showcase Birmingham’s talent-rich students in such a way that also celebrates Black History through art and live performances – that event is called YouthSpeak. It’s been incredible to see the personal growth that some of these students have experienced, being able to go on stage and express themselves through song, dance and poetry – all while celebrating their shared history.

As policymakers, we have a responsibility to confront systemic inequities and promote inclusivity in all aspects of society. By supporting programs that uplift historically underserved communities and investing in diverse artistic voices, we can build a more just and equitable future for all. I’m committed to doing whatever I can to ensure that the arts truly reflect the richness and diversity of the human experience.

Lastly, I’d like to invite everyone to join us on Friday, February 23 for the Third Annual YouthSpeak event at Red Mountain Theatre, beginning at 12 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and will feature performances by Birmingham City School Students, along with a special performance by the cast of The Color Purple. I hope to see you there and look forward to working with more groups to help bring more opportunities like this so we can continue to elevate Birmingham’s young local talent to the national stage.

Crystal Smitherman represents Birmingham City Council District 6.