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‘Def Poetry Jam’ starring Jill Scott, Malcolm-Jamal Warner & Ras Baraka benefits Newark frontliners

Jill Scott will be among the performers at a "Def Poetry" reunion that will raise funds for the Embrace Newark initiative. Leon Bennett | Getty Images

Jill Scott and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka are headlining a “Def Poetry Jam” reunion livestream this weekend that will raise funds for people in need during the COVID-19 crisis in Newark.

Def Poetry Jam," also called “Def Poetry,” was a showcase for spoken word performances that encompassed a Tony-winning Broadway show that premiered in 2002 and an HBO series that ran for six seasons.

The Peabody Award-winning show was created by Danny Simmons Jr. and his brother, entertainment mogul Russell Simmons, along with Bruce George, Deborah Pointer and Stan Lathan. Rapper Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) hosted the series from 2002 to 2007.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka will be a guest poet this weekend. David Gard | For NJ Advance Media

Baraka, who will be a guest poet at the event, regularly closes out his city briefings with a poems. The mayor, who recorded the spoken word album “Shorty for Mayor" and published the poetry collection “Black Girls Learn Love Hard," can be heard on the Fugees album “The Score” and Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." He appeared on “Def Poetry Jam," as did his father, poet and writer Amiri Baraka, the former poet laureate of New Jersey who died in 2014.

The “Def Poetry” reunion, “An Evening of Healing, Power and Poetry,” will stream on Twitch and Facebook Saturday, May 23 and be broadcast simultaneously on Newark municipal access channel NWK 78.

Scott, who is fresh off her well-received Verzuz battle on Instagram Live with Erykah Badu, is just one of more than 40 performers slated for the event, to be hosted by poets Black Ice and Jessica Care Moore, who have both been featured on “Def Poetry Jam.”

Malcolm-Jamal Warner is also on the lineup for the "Def Poetry" reunion. Paras Griffin | Getty Images

Taneshia Nash Laird, president and CEO of the Newark Performing Arts Corporation, which operates Newark Symphony Hall, is also president of the board of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, chaired by Danny Simmons Jr. Money raised will go to the foundation and be distributed to Newark Symphony Hall’s Embrace Newark initiative, created to help locals during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Laird, who had previously produced “Def Poetry” reunions, planned an in-person event intended to be a fundraiser for the 95th anniversary of Newark Symphony Hall. Now, the show will address the local impact of COVID-19.

“Two of my management staff lost six family members between them," Laird tells NJ Advance Media. “It’s been pretty devastating.”

Laird says the event was organized after a successful “Def Comedy Jam: Healing Through Laughter" online fundraiser last month.

“My hope is that we will be able to support other artists," she says. “It’s pretty amazing to highlight Newark as a city in an internationally televised event.”

Part of the mission of Embrace Newark is to recruit artists to document their quarantine experiences. Laird also anticipates that money raised will be used to pay for face shields at local hospitals.

Previously, Newark Symphony Hall provided 9,000 N95 masks — which had been in storage since the years following 9/11 — to healthcare workers and residents, Laird says. (The venue’s ballroom and parking lot had been designated a triage location in the event of an emergency.)

“The goal of our Def Poetry Jam streaming event is to raise funds to provide basic needs for members of Newark, NJ’s vulnerable and underserved community,” Simmons said in a statement.

Laird says another goal over what she expects will be a three-hour event is to get people to momentarily “forget” the stresses of the pandemic. Actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner (“The Cosby Show”) is also on the bill, as is MC and singer-songwriter Mumu Fresh, aka Maimouna Youssef.

“It’s been almost 20 years since I had the pleasure and honor to rock Def Poetry Jam,” Warner said on Instagram. “And I’m excited to rock again w the heavy hitters and heavy spitters!”

Poets returning (virtually) to the Def Poetry stage will include Sunni Patterson, South Plainfield’s own Mike “Big Mike” Bertram, Roger Bonair, Lemon and Georgia Me. Others expected at the event include Newark’s Jasmine Mans and Rob Hylton, Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, Brandon “Real Talk” Alexander, Elisabet Velasquez and Khemist.

How to watch

You can watch the “Def Poetry Jam” event starting at 7 p.m. ET Saturday, May 23 at facebook.com/russellsimmons and twitch.tv/defpoetryjam or on Newark municipal access channel NWK 78.

Story Source: Amy Kuperinsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

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