“Would you like thirty free tickets to see Jay-Z?”
Most people would feel lucky to receive such an offer completely out of the blue.
For Candi CdeBaca, a political activist who’s known for tackling issues like the I-70 expansion and gentrification in Denver, it meant much more. The tickets were offered to students she mentors in Project VOYCE – an organization that CdeBaca co-founded in Five Points that aims to empower youth and give them the civic-engagement tools to shape their schools and communities.
Twenty-five students (along with five chaperones, including CdeBaca) ended up attending Jay-Z’s concert at the Pespi Center on Sunday night, November 5 — part of the rapper’s tour in support of his new album, 4:44.
“It was a dream to be recognized, whether by chance or through our work,” CdeBaca says, adding that the tickets were proffered by Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment juggernaut, and the Shawn Carter Foundation, the rapper's philanthropic nonprofit.
But how did Jay-Z’s camp know to reach out to Project VOYCE? CdeBaca has a theory.
“We had worked with Roc Nation in the past when they gave us tickets for Van Jones's ‘Love Army’ tour, so I am assuming they had us listed from there,” she says. “There was really no explanation as to why but…the unsolicited gift was a breath of fresh air in a job that requires me to constantly solicit donations. I did not have money growing up to attend expensive events, so I know what it's like to be my students. For many of them, it was their first concert, so to be able to share that with them and watch their disbelief when they saw how great our seats were was amazing. It reminded me that we are loved and our work matters. To make that opportunity available to my kids and my team felt incredible.”
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That sentiment is echoed by Ashton Kynard, one of the VOYCE students who got to attend the show on Sunday. More than just a night of entertainment, the concert was an opportunity to dig into the themes of Jay-Z’s music and reflect on the artist’s messages through the lens of what he’s learned through Project VOYCE.
In an emailed statement, Kynard said, “Honestly I'm a huge Jigga fan, so experiencing him…[live] had me looking around for every little detail and digging into [his] esoteric intent...The biggest connection I made between the 4:44 experience and Project VOYCE was his performance of ‘The Story of O.J.’ The line, ‘I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo, for like two million / that same building today is worth 25 million, guess how I'm feelin'? Dumbo" is about the gentrification of a formerly black neighborhood in his home of Brooklyn. This is a huge issue in the [Denver Metropolitan Area], especially in areas like Park Hill, the Eastside, Swansea, Elyria, and my home town of Aurora. The only real difference is I didn't have two million to buy my great grandmother's north Park Hill home and fix it up…However, in working with Project VOYCE, I understand I can help turn the situation around, bring power back to the people in my community, restore what's been taken from us — even though I don't have the clout and status of an American god [like Jay-Z].”
In a social-media post after the concert, CdeBaca wrote, “It was such a gift to see these faces light up when we found out that [Jay-Z] gifted Project VOYCE students tickets to tonight's concert. We are so thankful to have shared the experience of witnessing a living legend!”