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Comedian and actor Dave Chappelle put together a celebrity-filled show in Dayton, Sunday, Aug. 25, in response to the deadly mass shooting there earlier this month. On the specially erected stage at the edge of the Oregon District, where the shooting occurred, Chappelle invited the 20,000-some strong crowd, which was projected on the giant screen behind him, to raise their lighted cell phones in unity. (Photo by Carol Simmons)

After tragedy, benefit fosters healing

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In the wake of the recent fatal mass shooting in nearby Dayton, comedian, actor and Yellow Springs resident Dave Chappelle parlayed his fame, celebrity friendships and financial resources to do what he’s best known for doing — put on a show.

Billed as “Gem City Shine,” in reference to Dayton’s nickname as the Gem City, the free event Sunday, Aug. 25, featured a lineup of high-profile national performers, including headliner Stevie Wonder, and served as a massive, healing block party in the neighborhood where the deadly shooting took place in the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 4.

“Today we’re going to show the world that nothing is going to get us down,” Chappelle told the cheering crowd Sunday as he took the stage specially erected for the event at the intersection of Fifth Street and Wayne Avenue, on the edge of Dayton’s Oregon District.

“Don’t forget what this place is about,” he said. “Mankind learned how to fly in this city,” he added, referring to the Wright brothers’ invention of machine-powered flight.

“Dayton, you are a city of epic proportions,” he continued, adding, “No matter what is going on, no matter how tough these times get, we hold our heads up high.”

Just southeast of the city’s downtown,  the Oregon District is a popular entertainment hub of restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as the site of independently owned shops, art galleries and historic homes. In years past, Chappelle performed at Wiley’s Comedy Club there.

The district, city and region were left traumatized and grief-stricken after a 24-year-old Bellbrook resident killed nine people shortly after 1 a.m. three weeks before Sunday’s gathering. At least 27 others were injured as well in the approximately 30-second rampage, which ended when Dayton police officers on foot patrol shot and killed the gunman.

The purpose of Chappelle’s Gem City Shine event was in large part to overshadow that trauma and assuage the community’s collective grief while raising money for victims and their families through donation requests and T-shirt sales.

“It’s the least I could do,” Chappelle said.

With the number of tickets capped at 20,000, the estimated crowd turnout was that plus some.

“It’s like Woodstock out there,” Chappelle quipped.

Joining Chappelle on stage, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley urged the gathering to speak out for stricter gun legislation.

“Demand action,” the mayor said. “The world is watching. … We changed the world once, and we can change the world again,” she added, echoing Chappelle’s reference to flight.

Strength, resilience, unity and love

“We’re about to change the world right now,” Chappelle said, using the mayor’s words to segue to the slate of entertainers on hand ready to perform.

With Chappelle serving as emcee and Atlanta-based DJ Trauma dropping beats between acts throughout the five-hour show, the atmosphere of the event focused on strength, resilience, unity and love, with each of the performers expressing thoughts highlighting those themes.

“This is some serious resilience right here,” opening act, L.A.-based bassist Thundercat told the crowd.

Later in the lineup, during an energetic set of past hits and new songs, Chance the Rapper spoke from the heart.

“Thank you, Dayton, for showing up to represent love, to represent healing, to represent community,” he said.

Before concluding with his benediction-like “Blessings,” the 26-year-old Chicago native offered: “Dayton, you have reclaimed this area. You have reclaimed this area with love, with hope and with resilience.”

Also on the bill were R&B singer and dancer Teyana Taylor and hip-hop performer Talib Kweli.

Taylor’s set featured a video montage of television news reports of the Aug. 4 shooting and photos of each of the nine victims — Monica Brickhouse, Nicholas Cumer, Derrick Fudge, Thomas McNichols, Lois Oglesby, Saeed Saleh, Logan Turner, Beatrice Warren-Curtis, and the shooter’s sibling, identified as Megan Betts.

Taylor, who had her 4-year-old daughter on stage with her, broke down in tears as the video concluded, pulling her daughter to her before continuing with her performance.

For his set, Brooklyn-born Talib Kweli welcomed Yellow Springs-based hip-hop performer Issa Ali to join him on stage, giving him the spotlight for an extended solo rap.

Afterward, the 2006 Yellow Springs High School graduate, who has a working relationship with Kweli, said the experience “was a dream come true.”

And he added that he was grateful to Chappelle for putting the concert together.

Another Yellow Springs-based musician at the show as Chappelle’s guest said he, too, appreciated the concert, even though his band wasn’t featured.

“I think this is one of the most beautiful things Dayton has seen in a very long time,” David Byrne, the drummer for Speaking Suns, said backstage.

Speaking Suns performs frequently in the Oregon District, and its members have many friends in the area, Byrne said.

“If we can feel united and come together after this senseless tragedy, it really shows the unity that Dayton has, and I’m happy to be a part of it,” he said.

Putting the event together

The gathering was organized in collaboration with a variety of Dayton groups, including the chamber of commerce, the Dayton Foundation and the Oregon District Business Association.

The chamber members and business owners hoped that the high-profile event would encourage people to continue to patronize the neighborhood.

“We like to build community, and this is about community,” Mayor Whaley said in a press conference before the show.

The mayor said no tax dollars went into the event, adding that Chappelle took care of the stage and the performers, while the mayor’s office and chamber of commerce raised the funds for security and other costs.

The total cost for the event was unavailable at press time.

Holly Allen, the chamber’s director of marketing and communication, wrote in an email Tuesday that “event costs have been covered by the generosity of corporate donors, many of them chamber members.”

She added that “most have asked for anonymity out of respect for the true reason for the event, which was to support the victims and their families and to reclaim our beloved Oregon District.”

In-kind donations by “dozens of local companies,” also were made, she wrote.

The event, which came together in less than two weeks, also had the help of 350 volunteers who gave up to 2,000 hours of time both in preparation for and during the performance.

On Sunday, volunteers helped with media and volunteer check-ins, gate admissions and beer and T-shirt sales while also serving as media escorts and money counters, among other roles, according to Allen.

As for the amount raised through donations, organizers are “still counting,” Allen wrote.

Further donations can be made by texting DAYTON to 20222 or by going online to the Dayton Foundation’s website,

Allen said organizers have been “blown away” by results of the event.

“The generosity of our community is inspiring,” she wrote. “We’re grateful for the patience and kindness we witnessed during the event, and the dedication from the many volunteers and organizers who made this happen. … We couldn’t have asked for a better showing of unity, solidarity and love for the victims and their families, and our neighborhood.”

Friendship and hope

Chappelle also gave some stage time to fellow comedian Jon Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Together, the pair, who have shared tour dates, exchanged jests about their friendship, and Stewart noted that residents in the nearby apartment building had “the best seats in the house.”

Also present as guests, but not performing, were Saturday Night Live cast member and writer Michael Che, comedian Michelle Wolf and DJ Khaled.

A number of Yellow Springs residents were also among the guests, including Chappelle’s extended family and their friends.

Villager Sarah Mabra said the next day that she was still feeling positive effects of the experience.

“It was amazing to actually feel hope,” she said.

“There are so many of these mass shootings so close together. It’s heartbreaking. But to see all that unity yesterday, and all that hope” is inspiring, she said.

The highlight of the evening for many in the crowd was the show’s headliner, superstar Stevie Wonder, who declared he is Chappelle’s “friend for life.”

Wonder also spoke in favor of a change in gun laws.

“I’m here because we can’t just talk about it, we have to be about it,” he said, launching into an hour-long set of some of his greatest hits, including “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” “Higher Ground,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.”

Chappelle returned to the stage at the show’s end to lead the crowd in a group sing of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”

As the gathering raised their lighted cell phones in the air, Chappelle noted, “I’m looking out at the crowd and I see thousands and thousands of people. Behind the crowd, I see Fifth Street, where the shooting happened.”

Continuing, he added: “Dayton, we mourn our dead, but tonight we honor them. This is the way we honor them, by making certain we change the gun laws of this nation.”

“Stay friends,” he concluded. “Remember we are friends, we are neighbors and we are countrymen.”

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