FLINT, MI — Grammy Award-winning cellist and activist Yo-Yo Ma is planning a Day of Action in Flint on Feb. 28 — hosting a local exhibit of the arts, meeting with residents and hosting a conversation with community leaders.

The event — called “Flint Voices: Culture, Community, and Resilience” — includes more than 30 Flint-based organizations and partners exploring the power of culture to create lasting change in a community. Ma will participate alongside community partners, local artists, and activists to discuss how to build a connected, thriving community.

“Culture matters because it helps us connect and understand one another. And it’s only through connection and understanding that we can create strong, inclusive, and resilient communities and build a better future. I have watched with the nation as Flint has done just that.”  — Yo-Yo Ma, famed cellist 

A free, public celebration is being hosted by Ma from 4-6 p.m. at Berston Fieldhouse, featuring performances and presentations that show off Flint’s cultural attributes, diversity, and story. Notable Flint artists, including musician Tunde Olaniran, artist Natasha Thomas-Jackson, and Kevin Collins’ African Drum and Dance, are among the participants.

“Culture matters because it helps us connect and understand one another,” Ma said in a news release. “And it’s only through connection and understanding that we can create strong, inclusive, and resilient communities and build a better future. I have watched with the nation as Flint has done just that.”

The visit is part of Ma’s Bach Project, launched in 2018. The Bach project uses Johann Sebastian Bach’s 300-year musical legacy as an example of how culture spans generations and connects people of all backgrounds. His Days of Action are public events and creative experiences that aim to mobilize communities to build new relationships and create change using culture as the impetus.

Ma is a United Nations Messenger of Peace, and has received the National Medal of Arts and Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other honors. He was a child classical music prodigy who famously performed in front of President John F. Kennedy when he was 7-years-old.

He will also host an invite-only strategy session with local Flint leaders to design new solutions to problems and identify new collaborative opportunities.

“We are extremely excited that Yo-Yo Ma has chosen the Flint Community for one of his Days of Action, and we’re so honored to be a community sponsor and host site for this event,” Bryant Nolden, executive director of the Friends of Berston, said in a news release. “We look forward to inviting others in the community in to see what kinds of special events happen at Berston on a daily basis, and to showcase both the facility and our incredible cultural community to a wider audience.”

The events in Flint will be preceded by a talk by Ma in Ann Arbor at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 in Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan. Tickets are available online.

“It is exhilarating to be part of an inspiring project that seeks to heal and bring people together,” said Sue Alcock, interim provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan–Flint. “Arts and culture have long played a key role in how we have imagined and built our past, present, and now, our future, and we’re elated that Yo-Yo Ma wants to shine a spotlight on the strong and talented community that is Flint.”

The celebration at Berston will feature a variety of local artists and activists filling both ground floor gymnasiums at the storied community center. The exhibits will include a collaboration by Flint Beat and Flintside to highlight the importance of strong local journalism in building healthy communities. Their exhibit includes a video produced by local photographer and videographer Mike Naddeo that explores the role of arts and resilience in Flint and the necessity of local reporting in maintaining the authenticity of community narratives.

Flint community organizations playing a role in this event include Berston Field House, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Communities First Inc., Chosen Few Arts Council, Ed Morrison and Strategic Doing, Dallas and Sharon Dort, El Ballet Folklorico Estudiantil, Factory Two, Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, Flint Area Chapter of The Links Inc., Flint Cultural Center Corporation, Flint Fresh Food Hub, Flint Institute of Music, Flint Neighborhoods United, Flint Public Art Project, Friends of Berston Field House, Greater Flint Arts Council, The Hagerman Foundation, Mayor’s Office of the City of Flint, McCree Theatre, Rachel Bendit, Ruth Mott Foundation, Sphinx Organization, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, Tapology, The Community Foundation of Greater Flint, University of Michigan Regent Michael J. Behm, University of Michigan, University of Michigan-Flint, and Wallace House of the University of Michigan.

Patrick Hayes is the editor of Flint Beat. He has nearly two decades of experience in journalism, working as an editor and reporter with MLive and the View Newspapers in Genesee County. He has had bylines...