The mayor of Newark, NJ, Ras Baraka, drew on his talents as a poet and spoken word artist to explain the demands of people thronging the streets of American cities to protest the police killing of George Floyd in a prescient video recorded late last year called “What We Want.”
The mayor, whose father Amiri Baraka was once the state poet laureate, just released the video that was filmed last November. In it he recites a long list of demands for social justice. The video, was featured this week in Rolling Stone.
“The message is more relevant now with the unrest in the black community and the protest around equality and justice,” Baraka told Rolling Stone. “We need more than justice in the moment – we need an overhaul of our systems. This is our opportunity as a people and world citizens to address the root of the larger issues that affect all our communities and the injustices that we deal with.”
The video has a haunting quality with dancers in white face paint performing as Baracka recites his poem, which is the title track of a five track spoken word EP album entitled “What We Want”. The list of demands is long and free ranging but all aimed at universal economic dignity and the sanctity of each individual.
Dancers in the video with messages written like tattoos on their faces such as “no deportation,” “truth,” “equal pay,” “free health care,” and “reparations,” among others.
Newark, the largest city in New Jersey, was badly scarred by rioting in the aftermath of the assasination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. The city has in recent years has resurged as a vibrant urban center but has suffered badly from the COVID-19 pandemic, problems with lead in the drinking water, and perennial problems with public school funding.
The video was filmed at historic New Jersey Symphony Hall in Newark. It was directed by international award-winning director Udi Aloni with Newark-based filmmaker Ayana Stafford-Morris. Baraka is a published poet and can be heard on the Fugees album The Score and Lauren Hell’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.