Students and Faculty Use Music and Lobbying to Aid Northern Ugandan Children

KNOXVILLE — Through music and political lobbying, students and faculty on the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus are finding creative ways to help the children of war-torn Northern Uganda.

A new music CD — with Professor Rosalind Hackett as executive producer, student Chris Martin as artist and several faculty members among the performers — has been released to raise money for benefit efforts.

In addition, a team of UT students led by Hackett traveled to Washington, D.C., in mid-February to attend a service focusing on the Northern Ugandan crisis at the National Cathedral. This summer, some students plan to go to Northern Uganda to see the situation for themselves.

Hackett, a religious studies professor, is a specialist on the religions of Africa. She lived for several years in West Africa, but her visit to Uganda in 2004 was a turning point in her life.

“The war in Uganda is Africa’s longest-running war, and it has been described as one of the world’s most neglected humanitarian crises,” she said.

Past, present and future

Last summer, Hackett learned that former UT artist-in-residence, renowned South African saxophonist Zim Ngqawana, was playing at a Chicago jazz festival. Working with UT’s music department, Hackett brought Ngqawana to Knoxville and organized a Northern Ugandan benefit concert, Knoxville Jazz for Justice, around his visit.

Held on Sept. 1, 2006, the concert drew more than 600 people to World Grotto in downtown Knoxville. It raised about $5,000 for relief efforts in Northern Uganda.

“The concert also became a rallying point for students who were aware of the situation in Northern Uganda, as well as those who wanted to learn more about it,” she said.

Recently, the students worked with Hackett and local musician and producer Carlos Fernandez (altrumusic.com) to create the Knoxville Jazz for Justice CD featuring tracks donated by the concert performers and others who support the cause. Contributors include Ngqawana; Fernandez; Grammy-winners Jeff Coffin and Victor and Roy “FutureMan” Wooten of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones; UT’s Donald Brown, Mark Boling, Keith Brown, and Rusty Holloway; the Hector Qirko Band; Nuevo Montuno; the Mitch Rutman Group; the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra; the Yonrico Scott Band; Rich Walker; Ira Sullivan; and bass vocalist Jonathan Blanchard.

Proceeds from the CD will benefit the Northern Uganda Girls’ Education Network, a group of Ugandan teachers, caregivers, and leaders who provide education for underprivileged and war-traumatized girls in Northern Uganda, and Uganda Conflict Action Network (www.UgandaCAN.org), a U.S. student activist organization. The CD is available at www.cdbaby.com/kjfjvac, the UT Bookstore and Knoxville music stores.

Lessons come to life

UT students who have become involved with Knoxville Jazz for Justice and the Northern Uganda benefit efforts say they’ve learned that college students can make a difference in the world.

In October 2006, some students traveled with Hackett to the Northern Uganda Lobby Day in Washington, D.C.

“This two-day event taught us how to be stronger advocates and lobbyists,” said Lindsay McClain, a freshman in Global Studies from Franklin.

Erin Bernstein, a sophomore who went on the Washington, D.C., trip in February, said a humanitarian worker told her that UT’s efforts are recognized in Northern Uganda.

“One woman who worked for the NUGEN said that the little girls who are benefiting from the proceeds of Knoxville Jazz for Justice call themselves ‘University of Tennessee girls.'”

Bernstein said the students’ efforts give new meaning to the phrase “Ready for the World,” the name given to UT’s initiative to expand international and intercultural opportunities on campus.

“We’re throwing ourselves into this vast world, and we’ve already started to change it,” Bernstein said.

Chris Martin, a sophomore, said students are looking for more ways to use music to help the situation in Northern Uganda, such as sending musical instruments to children in Gulu to promote psychosocial healing. They’re also seeking new ways for musicians and music-lovers in the Knoxville area to use music as a form of activism, something Martin calls “engaged entertainment.”

For Hackett, seeing students unite to help Northern Uganda and make Knoxville Jazz for Justice an ongoing effort has been thrilling.

“These students don’t just want to be globally aware, they want to be globally engaged,” Hackett said. “They’re learning they can do more than get involved — they can make a difference. It’s so heartening to me as a professor who has been here 20 years. This is far beyond anything the students or I could get from the classroom.”

For more information about the Knoxville Jazz for Justice Project and other UT efforts to benefit Northern Uganda, contact Hackett, rhackett@utk.edu or see www.knoxjazzforjustice.org.

About the war:

For the past 21 years, the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government have been at war in Northern Uganda. According to Uganda Conflict Action Network (UgandaCAN), about 2 million Acholi — the people who live in the war-torn region of Northern Uganda — have been forced from their homes by government troops and sent to squalid camps where hundreds have been dying weekly. The LRA is known for kidnapping, raping and forcing children and youth into armed combat. Trying to avoid this fate, at the peak of rebel activity, thousands of Acholi children hiked miles each night from their villages into Gulu, the main town in the war zone, where they slept in camps set up by humanitarian agencies.

Contacts:

Rosalind Hackett, (865) 974-6980, rhackett@utk.edu
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu