Archive for September, 2013

Walkout!

Posted: September 25, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Walkout!

Sept. 25, 1968: Students walked outside English High School where Boston police monitored a student protest of school clothing regulations. Black youths were protesting the suspension of one student who wore a “dashiki” to school, and several white students burned their neckties on the grounds that if black student didn’t have to wear ties they shouldn’t either.

Its a Wonder We're Free...

Boston has moved into the 21st century but Boston leaders haven’t noticed.

I left Boston in 2002 , while MassVOTE, the organization I founded, was in the middle of a redistricting fight with Speaker of the House Tommy Finneran, a Statehouse speaker who used fear and intimidation to lead.  I moved back to Boston three years ago.  I moved back because I love this city and I believe in the work and love the people.  I looked forward to moving back and working towards the beloved community.

After finishing my fellowship at MIT, I began working with Greg Selkoe and started Future Boston Alliance.  The goal of Future Boston Alliance is to create an ecosystem of arts and innovation that will help shape Boston in the 21st century.  We launched with a mission video that caused quite a ruckus because we named the problem with our old…

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A New York Times Article came out today on Violence in Boston’s black community and how it’s impacting the Mayoral race which has more people of color running than any other time in history. Longtime Roxbury activist Jamarhl Crawford who is running for District City Councilor against Tito Jackson, and author of the site Blackstonian.com. Here is a link to the counter that Jamarhl has been posting that shows the number of gunshot murders that have happened in Boston since the bombing of the Boston Marathon–123 at last count.

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Jeff Johnson, on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: “They’re a celebrating with cotton candy approach… You got people who want to be involved in a socially conscious weekend.”

20130627-100324.jpgIn an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled “Colleges love hip-hop, but do they love black men too?” it was reported that Hip-hop represents the latest attempt by contemporary universities to rebrand themselves. As competition for students, financial support, and star professors intensifies in the increasingly competitive world of courting tuition dollars, Hip-Hop has become a way to draw young people to the school. The article asks the question “do they love black men too?” because in all the rush to embrace hip-hop, something has been excluded. In February of this year when the article was published, the College of William & Mary followed in the footsteps of Cornell, Harvard, and colleges that are part of the Atlanta University Center by establishing a hip-hop library collection. With more than 300 college courses related to hip-hop offered each year, full-fledged hip-hop degrees now represent a niche market, repositioning themselves in the education marketplace. The article goes on to state, “institutions of higher learning are failing to address the most problematic irony of hip-hop studies: The explosion of hip-hop in the academy has not coincided with positive educational gains for black men. While colleges race to analyze the street-born music, body movements, art, and poetry, the people whose images are most associated with hip-hop—young black men—continue to be left behind..” Several current members of the hip-hop generation as well as some from the pioneer generation are now serving as visiting professors and lecturers at several top name colleges and universities around the country. 20130627-100352.jpgThese include Zulu Nation founder Afrika Bambatta serving as a visiting Prof. at Cornell University. M1 of Dead Prez serving as a lecturer at Haverford College. Lil’ B a relatively young newcomer to the game serving as a visiting professor at New York University. The article goes on to state that, “Black men, when they are hip-hop entertainers, are in high demand on college campuses. Bun-B of UGK (Rice University), Wyclef Jean (Brown University), Gza of Wu-Tang (Harvard University), 9th Wonder (Duke University have recently become lecturers or visiting professors. Sadly, rappers are being recruited to teach at colleges where black male students are largely absent.” Needless to say their duties often somewhat light including having TAs grade papers as well as not having to serve on campus full-time or be in residence in any meaningful way. The point is that while these universities are very eager to pay the somewhat hefty salaries and fees to these artists, the black male students at their universities are languishing academically. The article quotes a report published last year by the University of Pennsylvania which documents the crisis facing black men in higher education, and warns that things are getting worse. According to the report, the relative number of black men entering college hasn’t improved since 1976, and HHA Card Final Front - Jan 2009bonly 33 percent of black male college students graduate within six years. The current graduation rate for Black males and colleges and universities hovers somewhere around 33.1 percent compared with 44.8 percent for black women, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The total graduation rate is 57.3 percent. [1] Add to that the fact that black men are frequently harassed and stopped on their university campuses and treated as criminals. What is the significance of this? Decreasing acceptance of hip-hop at some of the nations top colleges and universities continues to contrast with the somewhat negligent treatment of black men. In December the same researchers responsible for the Penn study “demonstrated that black male student-athletes were winning championship trophies for their colleges, but were leaving without obtaining degrees. Only about half of black male student-athletes graduate from big-division sports colleges within six years. A cynical interpretation is that black men are brought to campuses mainly to entertain with dazzling athleticism, less so for their contributions to intellectual life.” Oops. The politics of conservation and public memory are also in contention here as these exclusive and somewhat prestigious hip-hop archives are often in possession of countless artifacts and paraphernalia of Hip-Hop worth thousands of dollars. In at least one case, at Cornell University, the archives are largely off limit to the students (many of whom hail from the South Bronx themselves where it all began). Who are the archivists? Who are the collectors? Have they earned their bona fides in hip-hop? Have they “shown and proven” as hip-hop dictates for MCees and artists? What is the solution, if any? Hip-hop should be used to change how colleges recruit black men and help them graduate on time. Black males at Cornell have stepped up to tell the administration that they are underappreciated and underserved. Consequently, Cornell has committed $5-million to bring “posses” of underrepresented students to the campus each year, ensuring that those students won’t feel so isolated. And the organization S.W.A.G. (Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate) is providing black men with mentors and a sense of community. The goal is to raise black male graduation rates.

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The author and little brother circa 1986

This article got me thinking about my own journey in hip-hop. Hip-hop is one of those things that everyone has their own story to tell. Testimony is critical and dues paying is a must. What seems to upset most people about this seeming disparity between universities and black men on the one hand and efforts to encourage and protect and preserve the memories of hip-hop on the other and it’s mistreatment of black men in the process, is that only a decade ago the same universities showed not only zero interest in all things hip-hop but did their level best to destroy efforts to celebrate the hip-hop on college campuses.

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The Boston Floorlords

My personal experience with hip-hop was would be classified as what Nelson George calls the post-soul generation. I grew up in Boston celebrating hip-hop in the early 1980s with groups out of New York City like Run DMC, The Fat Boys, Dana Dane, Slick Rick and other popular artist of that day. I was heavily into breakdancing although still a bit young to really get involved the way I wanted to. I had questions… where were the battles held, how could I get there without bringing my parents, how would I get home? In Boston, it was the Floor Lords who held sway and were known as “the illest B-Boy crew”. I wanted to badly to be a part of them but I was a little too young to get involved. I had the moves but no way to get involved. Sadly, I would say that I was like many American kids at the time. Swept up in the Breakdancing craze for a while, never having learned about its roots in 70s New York when it was originally called B-Boying by its most ardent practitioners, most of whom, though not all were Puerto Rican (and Dominican). I knew very little then about grafiitti or tagging, although I knew I liked it. No, sadly I was limited to breakdancing “shows” for my parents and larger family at home and on special family gatherings.

Wild-Style-1Hip hop or rap as it was commonly known at that time was presented and marketed to kids our age as an alternative to what we ignorantly considered to be white music–rock ‘n roll. Not withstanding the fact that rock ‘n roll was essentially invented by African-Americans and that hip-hop had probably more in common with what was classified as punk rock at time. I remember watching Wildstyle for the first time (at the Orson Welles theater in Cambridge, Mass!) and wondering why Debbie Harry of Blondie was in the movie… I must have been like 12 at the time so I didn’t understand the connection… I basically just made the mental note and kept it moving but later I came to understand that this was one of those cross-cultural moments where interracial cooperation and a class (and common-political interests/orientation) connection if nothing else joined these two seemingly disparate genres of music… the dichotomy is really imposed later between what we used to ignorantly classify as rock being white music and rap being black music so much so that some of us were ashamed to admit we even liked rock music! It’s yet another moment where that cooperation, it seems to me, could have been so empower20130627-095835.jpging and impactful on the industry that it becomes one that has to be destroyed and these false classifications of music have to be imposed such that by the Run DMC and Aerosmith collaboration you think that this is actually something new! This is the kind of rallying cry Hip-Hop needs today to bring us back together. The site for this coming together could be college campuses. But only if colleges, in the words of Biggie, “spread love” to the black men they have drawn through Hip-Hop. In this case the streets have something to teach colleges instead of the other way around. “It’s the Brooklyn way.”

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