This past weekend, I was one of the Daytonians swimming in the massive crowd populating the Historic Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio. The crowd materialized early in the afternoon to witness the Gem City Shine benefit concert hosted by Dave Chappelle -- to benefit the families and survivors of the Aug. 4 shooting.
My roommates and I were restless in our dorm suite Sunday morning, trying to iron out the logistics for the rest of the day.
Should we go earlier or later? Should we even try to stand in line if we don't have tickets? Which side should we try to get in? Who's even performing? If it's Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper it's so worth it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But we have so much homework. And class tomorrow. Oh my gosh someone saw Lady Gaga doing a sound check?! We have to go. Wait where would we even park?
There was so much unknown, but that's part of what made it so exciting. We were already so bummed about missing the Sunday service with Kanye West, we were anxious to not miss anything else.
We ended up calling a Lyft around 3:45 pm, finally all decked-out and determined to experience this Dayton miracle. As we approached the scene of the event, butterflies erupted in my stomach.
RTA buses blocked the streets and lines of people weaved in and out of the blocks, winding around the Dublin Pub and a nearby church. Beyond the RTA's, we caught occasional glimpses of the concert stage and the crowd filling the Oregon District. Our driver dropped us off, wishing us good luck. We gaped. The sheer number of people, the lively buzzing of voices and the thundering bass of the DJ's music was so surreal.
Unable to fathom standing in the seemingly infinite admission line, we instead finagled a spot close to the stage, yet still outside of the technical event perimeter. From where we were standing we could see the swelling crowd in the Oregon District, and a side view of the stage with a magnified image on a screen nearby.
We were there for the entire concert, which was an incredible experience. And although I could ramble forever about the love and resilience expressed that evening, I will try to more concisely convey Dayton's strength of togetherness by sharing a few highlights.
The group of people we initially stood with was fairly small -- apparently the parking lot behind the Chinese restaurant was not a well-known location.
As the evening progressed, more and more people filled in the gaps and a significant crowd formed behind us four UD students, leaning against the gate. And as people trickled in, we talked with those directly around us -- introducing ourselves and offering to take pictures of and with each other. The warmth and kindness of the Dayton people around me was one of the most amazing aspects of that evening.
The strikingly vast crowd of people really conveyed Dayton's strength of togetherness and community -- we were all there together, mourning and celebrating. I felt this strongly even as we chanted with Dave Chappelle "O-H," "I-O" and our phone flashlights waved in unison, glowing in the dimness of the setting sun. I felt the strength when we all ached together for victims of the Aug. 4 tragedy as their faces were projected on the screens.
However, this huge gathering would not have been possible without the time and presence of the performers, who made the night particularly special. With their music and intermittent speeches, they also succeeded in bringing the people of Dayton together, and reminded us of our strength in community.
I remember very distinctly when Dave Chappelle lamented on the series of tragedies that have hit Dayton this year -- the tornadoes, the KKK-affiliated group rally, and now the mass shooting in the Oregon District. He commended us on our "determination to not let that define us and to shake the fear."
And I will never forget that experience of singing "Happy Birthday" with thousands of Daytonians and Stevie Wonder to Dave Chappelle.
Dave Chappelle and the rest of the performers reminded us of who Dayton is, and brought with them a much-needed spirit of celebration.
Dayton came together with peace, love, and resilience -- which is who I know Dayton to be, having lived here since I was eight years old. And I was filled with so much hope, as I experienced such a large-scale expression of Dayton's strength.