Many associate Global Citizen with the annual music festival it hosts in New York City (former headliners include Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, JAY-Z, Rihanna, Coldplay and Kendrick Lamar), where attendees earn tickets to the show by becoming a “global citizen” and signing up to participate in a social action via sponsored events. But the organization itself represents much more.
This year marks the first in which the organization has put together “Global Citizen Week” in NYC, hosting several opportunities to get involved with social justice and ending, of course, with its Central Park concert, featuring performers like The Chainsmokers, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder, Green Day, Alessia Cara and Andra Day.
On Sunday (Sept. 17), Global Citizen — co-founded by Hugh Evans, Simon Moss and Wei Soo in 2008, to help people take action on important world issues and push its ultimate goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 — hosted the week’s kickoff event “Breaking the Silence: Beyond the Dream,” a program focused on commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and continuing his legacy while striving to realize his dream of unity and equality for all.
A diverse crowd gathered at Riverside Church, the exact location of Dr. King’s speech all those years ago, for an afternoon of dynamic musical performances, calls to action by influential world and community leaders, and an unmatched display of artistry. Moderated by Soledad O’Brien, the program showcased a variety of performances, many garnering standing ovations. The event also included a series of Dr. King’s original recordings.
Special guests included Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and founder of Africa Rising Foundation and Mandela Project, speaker Forest Whitaker and Reverend Al Sharpton, who brought a reflection of Dr. King’s “The Fierce Urgency of Now” into the present day. “It is time for all of us, across races, across religions, across beliefs, gender and preferences, to stand up like Dr. King. We have humanity at stake,” he expressed. “I urge you all to take heed — now is the time, the urgency is now! Don’t have enough courage to criticize those that speak out, and you don’t have the courage to address what they speak to.”
A rhythmic choral performance was given by gospel artists Donald Lawrence, Kierra “Kiki” Sheard and the Howard Gospel Choir, led by “hip-hop’s holistic lyricist” Sir the Baptist, who ended with an encouraging word for the audience: “Continue to use your voice. Silence is betrayal.” Among other musical presentations, there was a riveting tap dance performance by Chloe Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies, a song by “Brown Skinned Soul” vocalist Zeshan B and an impressive selection by Grammy-nominated 14-year-old jazz pianist Joey Alexander.
The church sanctuary fell silent as young “White Boy Privilege” poet-actor-activist Royce Mann delivered a tear-jerking performance of spoken word, urging the audience to “rise up” with the underrepresented.
Toward the end of the program, Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans took to the mic to speak about the importance of Global Citizen’s work. “We have the means to lift women and girls by making education a human right; we have the technology to feed billions who currently go without, and the treatments to prevent and cure diseases whose persistence this century is unacceptable; and we have the collective humanity so that prejudice and otherism should be a construct banished to the annals of history.”
This article originally appeared on Billboard.