Hip-Hop and Civil Rights Generations Break Down Barriers

Community activists past and present, including Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Calvin Butts and M-1 of rap group dead prez, met in Newark, New Jersey yesterday (6/17) for a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the National Hip-Hop Political Convention.

The members of both the Hip-Hop Generation and the Civil Rights Generation gathered at Metropolitan Baptist Church for what was billed as an Intergenerational Dialogue.

“This is real dialogue to not hold back, but to deal with the issues as real as we can,” said convention chair Ras Baraka. “We need both groups, regardless where you come from, to be a part of this struggle.

“This is a beginning discussion,” he added.

The event featured panel discussions on spirituality, arts & culture, grassroots activism, and electoral politics. Throughout the exchanges, the panelists called for more accountability and responsibility by those within the hip-hop community. Rev. William Howard of Bethany Baptist Church told the crowd not to underestimate the power of their movement.

“This [the NHHPC] can be your Raleigh, North Carolina,” he said, referring to the location where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committed [SNCC] was formed, because, according to Howard, they got tired of listening to the older generation.

Amina Baraka, mother of Ras and Black Arts Movement poet, also encouraged the crowd of twentysomethings and thirysomethings to be active leaders, in spite of inexperience. She explained it didn’t stop her and her peers. “They thought we were moving too fast, but we did it anyway,” she said. “And we learned.”

Legendary hip-hop photographer Ernie Paniccioli and rapper M-1 challenged the activists to be more assertive, yet remain pragmatic in regards to what hip-hop can accomplish in advocacy work. Paniccioli called for members in the audience to call record companies that either silence informative rappers or portray woman as object for men to be awarded.

“I hope you feel like crap when you leave,” the Native American said. “If you leave here and you feel good, you ain’t gonna make a change.”

M-1 said it was important for the community to realize hip-hop is not the end-all-be-all. Though the music is powerful, it is in his opinion that people overestimate exactly what the art form is capable of achieving. “Stop idolizing hip-hop as a way to save the ‘hood,” he said. “But [instead] look at it as a voice to pass on the message.”

Dr.’s Michael Eric Dyson and Rev. Calvin Butts reminded both generations of their similarities, which they felt should be focused upon to build bonds. Dr. Dyson noted the importance of the church for the Civil Rights Movement, and how spirituality applies to today’s leaders.

“Spirituality is a critical part of what it means to be a part of hip-hop,” he said before he cited 2Pac and the rapper’s penchant for questioning the purpose of life as well as the suffering of his people. “It joins hip-hop to every form of movement.”

Rev. Butts, who in the past led a campaign to bulldoze hip-hop CD’s that he deemed as vulgar, simply said both parties need to come together by focusing on their shared cultural identity. That way, according to the Harlem Church leader, they can all be on the same page as they fight to “get the foot of the oppressor of our neck.”

“We need to not debate on issues of divisions,” he explained. “We’re all of African descent.”

The National Hip-Hop Convention continues today with workshops on topics ranging from money matters to stereotypical images, which AllHipHop.com co-founder Jigsaw is a panelist on. A film festival and concert will also be a part of the day’s activities. The events begin at 10 a.m.