The best way to recognize and celebrate African-American History Month is make more history. We need to look at our new generation of young, committed, and talented freedom fighters and usher them to their rightful place in African-American history.
There are valid and urgent reasons why we need the Civil Rights Movement revitalized by a vibrant cadre of skillful and productive hip-hop artists. We need their God-given gifts and talents to arouse the consciousness of millions of young people to take action in the interests of freedom, justice, equality and empowerment. With the systematic right-wing attack on voting rights, growing income inequality, persistent poverty and unemployment, and the critical need to rebuild sustainable economic development in the African-American community, no one should be exempt from active participation in today’s ongoing freedom and empowerment movement.
Both Hip-Hop and the Civil Rights Movement have at their core the notion of irrepressible perseverance. There is a steadfast hope that change will come as a result of consistently standing up to injustice even when the odds are not in your favor. When we sang “We Shall Overcome,” it was a song to overcome fear and hopelessness.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis murders in Florida, we cannot permit fear and cynicism to overtake self-determination or our responsibility to continue demanding equal justice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently explained, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. So we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.
A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
The prophetic utterances of Tupac Shakur strike a similar note. Tupac said, “I know it seems hard sometimes but remember one thing. Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that. So no matter how hard it gets, stick your chest out, keep ya’ head up . . . handle it!”
Rosa Parks was fearless in her determination to reject the indignity of racial injustice and inequity. She said, “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away fear.”
Erykah Badu echoes these sentiments when she sings, “This pain to remain the same outweighs the pain to change… When you get tired enough is when you begin to want to sacrifice everything inside of you – the fear just leaves.”
Public Enemy and Run DMC, two Hip-Hop giants, were trailblazers of the music genre that “spit truth to power” by lyrically representing the aspirations of millions of youth throughout the world. They understood the strategic importance of not accepting or submitting to the injustices of the status quo. Hip-Hop culture became the culture of resistance to racial prejudice, yet pushed for a new world order and for “flipping the script” on global inequity and poverty.
My argument is not that the Civil Rights Movement or Hip-Hop is without contradictions. Simply, it is that our long struggle for freedom, justice, and equality is at its best when we understand that all people and all genres of music and culture should strive to make our society and world not a perfect place, but a better place.
Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most effective grassroots organizers, said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Today, when we witness the penetrating lyrics, dance, and music of Beyonce, it reminds me of Hamer. Beyonce extolled, “I worked hard and sacrificed to get what I get. Ladies it ain’t easy being independent.” Fighting for freedom and liberation are not easy, but are necessary for human progress.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is president of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.