Janelle Monáe Comes to Oakland to Combat Poverty

A sold-out concert raised over $1 million to fight Bay Area economic inequality.

Janelle Monáe started her benefit concert at Oakland’s Fox Theater with Crazy, Classic, Life, the second song off her Grammy-nominated album Dirty Computer, a wistful, hopeful tune that describes the simple aspiration of just wanting to be alright: “I’m not America’s nightmare / I’m the American dream / Just let me live my life.”

Part of the purpose of the benefit concert — organized by San Francisco nonprofit Tipping Point — was to support those trying to meet that goal. Tipping Point funds about 40 grantees who combat a number of issues in the Bay Area related to socioeconomic challenges. They work to increase affordable housing, improve graduation rates for low-income, first-generation students, and prevent homelessness, among other things.

The Oct. 12 concert, featuring The Tonight Show’s hip-hop band The Roots in addition to Monáe, was completely sold out to a crowd of over 3,000 people. Part of the initiative was inspired by previous efforts in response to the Napa Valley wildfires, when Tipping Point partnered with Band Together Bay Area to raise nearly $34 million for “low-income, immigrant, and student communities most impacted by the fires” through efforts like benefit concerts.

“Those were good ways to build awareness of what we were trying to do,” Sam Cobbs, the president of Tipping Point, says. “It was also a good way to bring the community together, so the community understood that they were part of the solution for solving poverty in the Bay Area, and it was also a way to celebrate the resiliency of the people in our region.”

At the concert, Monáe gave a “special shoutout” to everyone working at or with Tipping Point, saying that the nonprofit was exemplary of “what we all can strive for.”

“As a civilization, we literally depend on each other for survival,” Monáe said. Later on, she tipped her hat to “everyone with their boots on the ground, working days, hours, minutes, seconds” and applauded those working to “eradicate poverty in the Bay Area.” Proceeds from ticket sales go entirely toward Tipping Point’s grantees.

“This isn’t one of those benefit concerts where you read the small print, and it says ‘A portion of the proceeds will go toward this or that,’” Cobbs says, adding that “100 percent of the proceeds are going to the grantees fighting homelessness and poverty.” VIP members, Cobbs adds, got “the second-best seat in the house.” The very best seats were given to grantees working with Tipping Point.

Tipping Point’s “special and unique” model allows for them to allocate all of the funds raised for their grantees. A board consisting of other community leaders and members covers operation costs. Tipping Point has been in operation since 2005 in the fight to end poverty.

“So often those shows are produced after natural disasters, and there’s a massive response,” Tipping Point’s communications director Marisa Giller says. “But we combat a crisis of homelessness and poverty every day.”

“What I’m hoping that people will take away,” Cobbs says about the concert, “is one, how extremely lucky we are to live in a region with so many resources. Two, that living in a region with so many resources does mean that there are others doing without. Collectively, we are a community.”

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