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Stars gather in Flint to entertain, unite the community

Will Greenberg/Michigan Radio

Oscar Sunday was a night of stars not only in Los Angeles, but also in Flint. 

Organized by Ryan Coogler and his group Blackout for Human Rights, the #JUSTICEFORFLINT event brought artists across all mediums to the struggling city for a free show. 

Comedian Hannibal Buress hosted, with artists like Janelle Monae and Vic Mensa performing brief sets. Stevie Wonder was also rumored to perform later in the evening.

The motto for the night: Flint needs a big group hug.

"We deserve a night of fun, relaxation, and some entertainment," Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said on The Whiting stage to a crowd of around 1,500. "It's serious what happened, it's true, but we deserve a good time, and if tonight's not going to be a good time I don't what is."

Residents of Flint and the surrounding area packed the auditorium, some adorned in almost red-carpet-worthy attire. 

For resident Brandon Bell, having a free night out was a bit of relief from the struggles he and his neighbors have been going through. He said it's been a tough stretch for him, trying to fill baths and cooking pots with bottled water in what he called a "drastic lifestyle change."

But he said it was meaningful to see entertainers from around the country show their support.

"For them to do this, I appreciate it a lot," he said. "Just to be able to take the time for all the people in Flint to get away from the worst of what's going on just for a few hours of entertainment."

Buress kicked off the evening with a couple of pull-no-punches jokes about Flint, which got plenty of laughs. 

He told the story of arriving at his hotel in town and checking in with the woman at the front desk:

"She's just like, 'Here's your room key.' You didn't wanna say: 'Hey, the water's poisoned right now,'" Buress cracked. "You can't not mention that when somebody checks into a hotel. I might have forgot. You need to put that on the faucets: 'Hey, don't mess with this at all; the government ruined this.' "

Rappers, musicians, and activists roused the crowd as they condemned Michigan's state government for its role in the water crisis. More broadly, many performers also addressed racial injustices against African-Americans, citing police brutality and poor water conditions as just examples of the larger racial problem. 

Coogler introduced Mayor Weaver, saying the town needed a familiar face after being harmed by "someone they didn't elect," referring to Flint's emergency manager. 

"We've got artists from all over the country who have been affected by things in their community – not specifically what you guys are going through here in Flint, but identify with it and identify with you guys," Coogler told the crowd. 

Event organizers said they raised $139,400 thousand as of Monday morning from over 3,600 donations. Representatives on the regional Collective Action Fund will decide where best to send the funds.

These aren't the first stars to take up the Flint cause. Detroit-based celebrities and others from around the country have gotten involved both through donations and spreading awareness. Cher, Big Sean, Pistons owner Tom Gores, Michael Moore, and dozens of others have pledged money to the city's recovery. 

The event's media partner Revolt TV is streaming a replay for the next 24 hours (Some of it is NSFW):

Here is a video of Stevie Wonder's appearance:

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