Local and visiting artists perform tomorrow at the Union Project to mark the 70th birthday of Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, who has spent most of the past 30 years in solitary confinement in prison in Pennsylvania.
Performers include Pittsburgh-based spoken-word artist Vanessa German; Yumi Kurosawa, master of the Japanese stringed instrument called the koto; acclaimed New York City-based hip-hop vocalist spiritchild, of Zulu Nation and Mental Notes; and New York-based saxophonist and composer Benjamin Barson, whose performance credits include Lincoln Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Other speakers include Joyce Wagner, of Iraq Veterans Against the War; Bret Grote of the Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Center; Shandre Delaney, of the Human Rights Coalition; and Nazura Asaseyeduru of the National Black United Front.
The event, and an Aug. 24 concert in New York, are sponsored by social-justice group Scientific Soul Sessions and meant to spotlight not only to Shoatz’ case but also to the practice of solitary confinement, which human-rights activists call cruel. (More about that here.)
Shoatz is serving a life sentence for the 1970 murder of a Philadelphia policeman. His advocates contend that Shoatz — a former Black Panther and founding member of the Black Unity Party — has spent so much time in solitary because of his prisoner-rights work. He is currently in solitary at SCI Mahanoy, in Schuykill County.
In May, a suit was filed to get Shoatz out of solitary. Groups involved in the suit include such nationally recognized organizations as the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and Solitary Watch.
Pittsburgh’s Black August B’Earthday Celebration Honoring Russell Maroon Shoatz takes place 7-9 p.m. Fri., Aug. 23. Tickets are $10 ($15 at the door) and are available here.
The Union Project is at 801 N. Negley Ave., in Highland Park.