The Global Citizen Festival was initiated by the Global Poverty Project in 2012 as a movement to shed light on extreme poverty and the socioeconomic divides of society. It is held annually in New York City, Mumbai and Hamburg with a lineup of artists, world leaders, activists and other celebrity figures. Major artists including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Alicia Keys and Shakira have headlined the show in the past few years.
This year, on September 29, the festival was held in Central Park on the Great Lawn. At over 60,000 attendees and a titanic venue, the park was packed to the brim. With my bright yellow MetroCard, fluorescent sunglasses, and gleeful roommates in tow, I was exuberant to see the much-anticipated performances of The Weeknd, Cardi B and John Legend.
We arrived at the venue at 12:20 PM and waited in line for about an hour and a half. I was certain we wouldn’t get seats up front, but we somehow ended up about 20 feet away from the main stage. Before entering this area, we went through a security check that would put the TSA to shame. After settling in, employees handed out box-shaped water bottles made from paper-based recyclable material; much to our relief as standing in the scorching Manhattan sun had left us dehydrated.
After waiting another half an hour, the speeches and performances began. John Legend sang a rendition of “All of Me” that left the audience in tears. Shawn Mendes performed all his hit singles. Cardi B dazzled the audience with not only her voice, but her choreography.
Following their performances, the artists spoke of the United Nations’ global goals and expanded on different issues that plague today’s society. They spoke of domestic violence, world hunger, the significance of voting and other major global concerns. The crowd was moved by seeing members of their generation whom they look up to speak candidly about these weighty topics.
As inspiring as the whole scene was, it was also vaguely uncomfortable. In an effort to be as close to the stage as possible, the whole crowd kept rolling forward like a wave, pushing everyone into the people in front of them. It was extremely cramped. Despite this, my roommates and I remained optimistic.
This youthful optimism stayed with us until we heard what sounded like gunshots. The crowd reacted immediately, and push turned to shove as we all ran for our lives without another thought.
Everyone toppled over into one other. In this horrific process, I lost not only my shoes, sunglasses, and jacket, but also my roommates. Around me, employees of the festival called out to the crowd to “get down,”; people were sobbing, and I just ran. I ran like Forrest Gump all the way to Fifth Avenue, a few blocks away from the MET.
There, I was lucky to bump into old friends from high school. After speaking to a few law enforcement officers, we learned that the terrifying sound we’d heard was not an active shooter, but rather a fallen police barrier. Overwhelmed, but still yearning to see the Weeknd, we went back to the Great Lawn, where I was reunited with my roommates—unlike my fluorescent sunglasses, sneakers and windbreaker. Clad in only my neon green socks, I saw the Weeknd perform a magnificent set. The night ended on a good note.
The Global Citizen Festival was incredible, but also terrifying. As New York City is only a train ride away from Newark, plenty of NJIT students were in attendance. For instance, Smriti Nair, a second year Biology major and avid Shawn Mendes Fan, was there. When asked about her experience, Nair simply stated, “We shouldn’t live in a world where people hear a loud sound and conclude it’s just another shooting.”
Dozens of individuals sustained injuries from the night. It was certainly an interesting experience. I, for one, do not regret my attendance at the event as an experience—no matter how awful—is an experience.