Dave Chappelle stands on stage at the Gem City Shine benefit event in Dayton, Ohio
Netflix released Sticks & Stones, a new stand-up comedy special from Dave Chappelle on Monday, August 26th, 2019. The theme of the special ? as the title suggests ? is hurtful words and actions, and Dave finds no shortage of inspiration in recent headlines. He mocks celebrities such as R. Kelly, Jussie Smollett, and Louis C.K. But he doesn?t stop with easy targets; he mocks Louis C.K.?s victims, white victims of the opioid crisis, and white people in general. He mocks the #MeToo movement, members of the LGBTQ community, and the entire state of Ohio. And then he turns his attention to mass shootings.
?They just killed another 12 people in a mass shooting in Virginia Beach,? he says with exasperation in his voice. ?This shit is happening every week. It happens so much, I?m almost ? I don?t care anymore.?
Don?t believe him. Don?t believe him for even one moment. Because the day before Sticks & Stones was released, Dave Chappelle showed the entire world how much he cares. About mass shootings. About Ohio. About the whole human race. And I was there to bear witness.
The Aftermath of a Tragedy
During the early hours of August 4th, 2019, a gunman opened fire in the Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and injuring 27.
There?s no playbook, no instruction manual for how a community can heal from such a senseless act of violence, but Dayton residents stumbled through the aftermath with as much courage and compassion as they could muster. Thousands participated in a candlelight vigil. A blood drive drew state-wide attention. Local businesses held fundraisers to benefit the victims and their families. Homegrown hero John Legend returned to see the damage for himself. Even President Trump visited the area in an attempt at fostering unity ? before ultimately, predictably making this awful situation unnecessarily divisive and centered on himself.
Fortunately, native son Dave Chappelle knew exactly how to lead his community out of the darkness.
Gem City Shine
Just three weeks after the mass shooting, Dave Chappelle hosted the Gem City Shine, a massive block party meant to ?honor the lives lost and to reclaim the community?s favorite places to shop, dine and enjoy time with family and friends.? And Dayton residents came out in droves to participate.
Police barricaded the Oregon District with buses and squad cars. Lines stretched for blocks as tens of thousands of people waited to go through tight security. Metal detectors. Pat-downs. There would be absolutely no chance of violence on this day of peace and community.
Nobody seemed to mind waiting in line; we were all just happy to be together
Inside, the mood was ? hesitant.
DJ Trauma spun beats on the main stage. Daytonians wandered through the neighborhood, surveying the scene. There were food trucks, beer trucks, and shops and restaurants open for business. Among them, Ned Peppers ? the scene of the mass shooting that had thrown our city into pain and uncertainty.
A heart-shaped sign reading ?DAYTON STRONG? hung on the wall outside the bar. Flowers and notes lay on the ground beside a tasteful drawing memorializing the fallen. And mercifully, the blood stains had been scrubbed clean off the sidewalk.
As more and more people filtered in through security, the crowd became more relaxed. Excited, even. A stranger stopped me on the street just to ask if I was doing okay. ?I?m doing great, brother,? I assured him as I shook his hand. ?Dayton strong.?
I wasn?t the only one repeating that particular psalm on Sunday. It seemed like everyone was saying ?Dayton strong? to each other ? or wearing it on their t-shirts. One t-shirt spelled out ?DAYTON? using the logos from area high schools. Another t-shirt entreated people, ?Don?t love today, then hate tomorrow.? Some t-shirts were worn in reverence of the victims of the shooting. Other t-shirts struck a more irreverent tone.
Everyone wore their hearts on their sleeves, their chests, and their backs
It didn?t matter what anyone said or how they said it. We were all saying the same thing. It?s a hard message to put into words, to be honest. Something about love. Something about hope. Something about living through pain. Or maybe living with pain. But more than anything else, it?s a message about just plain living.
Stars on the Stage and in the Sky
To be honest, the people of Dayton were the main attraction. Buying each other drinks. Sharing food. Dancing together. Laughing together. Passing joints through the crowd.
Daytonians packed the streets to feel the music and celebrate life
The celebrity lineup wasn?t too shabby, either. Grammy Award winner Thundercat kicked off the show with his unique flavor of funk, followed by hip-hop artist and political activist Talib Kweli.
Next up was Teyana Taylor. To be honest, I?d never heard of her before the Gem City Shine. But she gave the crowd something to remember, as she delivered the most emotional performance of the evening. As she held her four year-old daughter in her arms, she wept and sang while the video screens behind her showed the names and faces of those who lost their lives in the mass shooting:
- Monica E. Brickhouse
- Jordan Cofer
- Nicholas P. Cumer
- Derrick R. Fudge
- Thomas J. McNichols
- Lois L. Oglesby
- Saeed Saleh
- Logan Turner
- Beatrice N. Warren-Curtis
Moments later, Dave Chappelle appeared on stage to lighten the mood and give a shout out to the friends and family of the fallen, who were watching the concert unfold from a bar across the street; Dave had reserved the rooftop patio just for them, making sure they had the best seats in the house ? and catering from the best chefs in town, too.
Dave Chappelle gave Dayton something to laugh about during a difficult moment in our history
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley led the crowd in singing ?Happy Birthday? to Dave, who had turned 46 the day before. Comedian Jon Stewart cracked jokes and shared serious thoughts, too.
Next up was Chance the Rapper, who bounced around the stage with incredible energy as he worked his way through his singles ?No Problem,? ?Do You Remember? and the deep cut ?We Go High,? which was note-perfect for the occasion. Chance made a comment about his label wanting him to promote his new album before wisely pivoting away from marketing, instead delivering a heartfelt message of peace and togetherness before bringing the proverbial house down with ?Blessings.?
Night fell, and stars peeked through the sunset sky above the stage, above the church, above the throng of concertgoers. Dave stood before us and ordered the DJ to spin ?Killing Me Softly.? In a matter of moments, thousands of people held up their cell phones to light the darkness, singing along while swaying to the beat.
It doesn?t get much better than this
Dave laughed and growled his way through the lyrics, not even close to in-tune and not even close to caring at all. I got the feeling that he was planning on getting high and listening to the Fugees tonight, regardless of whether he was doing it at the Gem City Shine with 20,000 people or at home by himself. I?m sure the same could be said for more than a few people in attendance.
Love and Wonder
The final guest of the night was the biggest: the legendary Stevie Wonder. Stevie kicked off his set with ?Love?s in Need of Love Today,? the lyrics echoing through the streets of the Oregon District:
Hate?s goin? roundBreaking many heartsStop it pleaseBefore it?s gone too far
The force of evil plansTo make you its possessionAnd it will if we let itDestroy everybody
?Love?s in Need of Love Today? originally appeared on Songs in the Key of Life, released on September 28th, 1976. It?s disheartening to think that 43 years later, love is still in need of love. It?s disheartening to think that 16,631 todays have passed by without love getting the love it needs. It?s disheartening to think about the nine people destroyed by hate in Dayton, Ohio, and the countless others destroyed by hate in our country and around the world.
But it was impossible to stay disheartened as Stevie belted out hits like ?Higher Ground,? ?Superstition,? and ?You Are the Sunshine of My Life.? At one point, Stevie took a break from singing to tell us all how much he loved each and every one of us, prompting Dave to give Stevie a big hug.
Stevie Wonder performs at the Gem City Shine
On this night, at least, love finally got the love it needed.
Less than 24 hours after its release, Sticks & Stones was making waves. A prominent TV producer who worked on shows like The Office and It?s Always Sunny in Philadelphia called it ?pathetic.? Vice magazine accused Dave of ?misogyny and transphobia.?
Don?t believe them. Don?t believe them for even one moment.
When Dave Chappelle heard of the massacre in the Oregon District, he could?ve cut a check ? like he did for the people suffering from the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. He could?ve performed a comedy set to raise money for the cause ? like he did for a local radio station earlier this year. Hell, he could?ve done nothing at all. He didn?t owe anything to me or anyone else living in the city of Dayton.
Instead, Dave Chappelle reached out to the mayor and pitched an ambitious plan. He donated a stage. He called up some of the most successful musicians and comedians in the history of American entertainment and convinced them to perform. For free. He ensured that those who lost loved ones to the recent gun violence were treated with extra care and compassion. He told us all how much he loves us. More importantly, he showed us all how much he loves us. And for one night, that love made the Gem City shine.
I hope that it doesn?t take another tragedy to make my city shine so bright again.