Thursday, May 22, 2008

RESPECT Hip Hop

Hey people of the world,

I know, I've been on a mad long hiatus. I have to say it's been for a good reason. The last few weeks I've been swamped with meeting deadlines for assignments in my MFA program. I'm proud to report that I've finished the semester, hopefully with good grades. I will know in a couple of weeks. I kept telling myself I need to jump back in and write another blog but I wasn't ready. I needed a break from writing in general. I needed to free my mind, which a week vacation in Germany and Paris, France helped me to do. Yet, I still wasn't inspired to write on a subject. I'm feed up with the Democratic primary, oil companies using supply and demand to legitimize their profits, attacks on Rev. Wright, and Lord knows there are many others I can list.

That changed for me tonight. I was inspired again. For the last day and half I've been in Baltimore, Maryland. I came down here for a diversity council meeting with the organization I work for. I was looking forward to the trip because I hadn't visited my agency's Baltimore division. A couple days before I left for my trip I received an email about "The mis-Education About Hip Hop: Youth of Color's Post Civil Right's Movement," an event that RESPECT, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's internal affinity group planned for the community. RESPECT focuses on the role of issues, race, ethnicity, class, power, and all forms of oppression play in the communities the Foundation serves.

Attending the event meant I would have to stay an additional night, but I looked at it as an opportunity to learn more about the efforts of the Foundation and have some more time in the beautiful city of Baltimore.

The program had some heavy hitters as panelists. Speakers included Shaheem Reid, a young writer who is an integral part of the MTV news team, standing out as one of the most respected and informative voices in hip-hop journalism; Raymond Codrington, Ph.D., he manages the domestic and international racial equity seminars at the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community change and who is currently developing a youth focused curriculum around structural racism; Dr. Patricia Harper, president of the Youth Popular Cultural institute, Inc., her concentration is on innovative youth development and engagement and the transformation of basic research into applied technologies and culturally appropriate communications for children, youth, families, educators, businesses, and public health professionals; and Kevin Liles, an executive vice president at Warner Music group, following in the foot steps of his mentor Russell Simmons, Liles is a native of Baltimore who is dedicated to the education and training of under privileged youth as well as a board member of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, an organization that educates the hip-hop generation on social and political issues.

Rather than address some of the negative speak that accompanies Hip Hop, this panel choose to focus on the positive aspects of Hip Hop and its benefits in our (Black/African American/West Indian America) communities, especially in engaging young people and it's global impact. Conversations with the panelists were facilitated with moderator Siman Noor and then there was a period of questions and answers from the audience to the panel. I didn't know what to expect, but I was looking forward to the event. Although labeled a "white girl" or "Oreo" by many of my black peers growing up, I still consider myself a part of the Hip Hop generation. Today, you will still find me shaking a "tale feather" to Hip Hop/Rap/R&B music, but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that some of the music is lackluster to me. I've lost respect for some of our current artists and feel that the evolution of Hip Hop's cultural movement is at a stand still. It's one of the reasons why I wanted to hear the conversation.

I'm glad I was part of this conversation. I consider myself to be lucky to have the opportunity to sit in on some intense dialogue centered around the benefits of Hip Hop music. Points by panelists were made that as a community we need to embrace and support the cultural phenomenon, that did not happen when the music hit the scenes in the early 1970's. It was dismissed as a fad and negated by the Black community's elders, our churches, and outsiders. Many failed to see that Hip Hop is a movement for social change in communities where, racism, injustice, and poverty are the norm. It's a vehicle to address these issues.

I'll be the first to admit that a lot of songs we hear on the radio have no social relevance, misogynous views of women, and propagate American materialism at its worse, but that was not the attention of Hip Hop, nor is it its future. I was reminded that even the "bad" songs can have a positive affect on Black communities if we gather as a community to talk about the implications of the music. We can't always see the negative, in order to make systematic changes in vulnerable communities of color we need to look at Hip Hop as a tool to help tackle the social issues that plague our communities.

Rappers are storytellers and Hip Hop is a continuation of the oral tradition that has benefited our communities since slave days. Young, old, rich, poor, Black, White, and all the colors in the rainbow are impacted by Hip Hop music. It's a cultural movement that should not be ignored. I was reminded that as an individual that I need to hold up its strengths and work to address it's weaknesses. We all need to be held accountable. It's easy to just blame the rappers, but America's and the world's problems were here long before folks started rapping about them. Lets look at ourselves. I'm not letting Jay-Z, Puffy, 50 Cent, Nelly, Ludacris, and other rappers off the hook because I believe they do have responsibilities to own up to, but then again so do I - we all do. I have to remind myself that not one of is perfect. The personal journey's we take to get to where we are in life affect us but they should not have to define us.

I hope you all are able to take something away from this very long blog. I know I feel a lot lighter haven written it. For those of you who are like me, striving to succeed at personal goals that some folks believe you should have given up a long time - don't concede to them or their ideas. Kevin Liles left me with some encouraging words, "Greatness meets greatness in time."

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