TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands continues school’s legacy of activism with new social justice video

Band members participate in the filming of the video at Hale Stadium.

(TSU News Service) – “I can’t breathe” is the highlight of a new video just released by Tennessee State University’s world-renowned Aristocrat of Bands and students in their continued push for social justice and equality. The thought-provoking video focuses on the last words of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man killed during an arrest by Minneapolis police in May.

“This video gives me and my peers the opportunity to let our voices be heard on behalf of those like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” said Tiara Thomas, a mellophone player in band, who came up with the idea for the video. The student trustee on the TSU Board of Trustees, Thomas is a junior political science major from Olive Branch, Mississippi, who is considered a crusader for campus voter education and registration. She is the creator and chair of the TSU Votes Student Coalition.

“While creating this video, I was filled with so much excitement and pride, especially for my community and my organization,” Thomas said. “This certainly is one of the most important performances I believe that AOB will ever do.”

The video features the band’s performance of ‘The Bigger Picture,’ by award-winning rap artist Lil Baby. A major highlight of the video occurs when the music fades into a chant of ‘I can’t breathe,’ the three words that have become the mantra of oppression and the spark for real change. The goal of the video is to continue awareness about racial injustice, as well as support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dr. Reginald McDonald, TSU’s director of bands, said the intent of the video is to let AOB fans and followers know “where we side in this fight” to bring attention to the issue of injustice.

“The majority of our performances are typically intended to entertain and bring joy to our listeners and viewers,” McDonald said. “This performance (video), however, is intended to open more eyes to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ fight for equality. Our goal is to educate our students and followers on the importance of getting involved, and how to protest without violence.”

TSU’s Associate Professor of African American and Public History, Dr. Learotha Williams, Jr. described the video and student activism as a continuation of a long legacy at TSU.

“As I look at our history, there is a struggle to find a period where TSU students were not involved in something,” said Williams. “We produce people that have been in the vanguard of protests. So, if you are looking at Black Lives Matter, or you are looking at current situations or protests that students are engaged in, it is consistent with the type of students that we have brought to TSU historically.”

Assistant Band Director Larry Jenkins, who arranged the music on the video, described ‘The Bigger Picture’ theme song selection as the ‘What’s Going On’ (by Marvin Gaye) of this generation.

“It’s coming from the voice of the youth and speaking directly to the world around them through a lens they see through clearly,” Jenkins said. “After hearing the message and the musical aspects as well, it was a no-brainer that this would be the song to make this statement.”

Ashanti Mason-Chambers, who directed, produced and narrated the video and is also professor of mass communication, said she hopes the performance in the clip would do more than just entertain.

“While we love providing that (entertainment) for people, it’s deeper than that this time,” Mason-Chambers said. “We want to spark conversation, positive action and reiterate the need for change in a society that continues to dehumanize and execute black people.”

Kevin Allen, a member of the AOB Media Team, was a producer of the video.