African American History Month is an appropriate time to evaluate the relationship between the Civil Rights Movement and the evolution of Hip-Hop culture and activism. I am aware this may be a strange question to ask given the popular perception of a generation gap between the young and the elders. Yet the issues of consciousness, values, principles, and ethics in the context of the ongoing struggle for freedom, justice, equality, and empowerment are matters that transcend age, gender, race, and social class.
Too often there has been a tendency to engage in intergenerational finger pointing to lay blame for the many negative or self-destructive incidents occurring in our communities. The truth is no one age group is solely responsible for the lack of progress or for the advancement of the interests of African Americans.
I am blessed because I grew up and participated in the Civil Rights Movement in my native state of North Carolina. I had the privilege of working as a youth organizer for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the 1960s. In the 1970s, I was able to polish and refine my community organizing skills with the Rev. Charles E. Cobb Sr. and the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice. In the 1980s, I began a 34-plus year working relationship and mentorship to Russell Simmons who emerged as the entrepreneur, visionary Godfather of Hip-Hop music and culture.
When you fight for freedom and stand for justice squarely in the face of oppression, you do not seek permission from others. What was required was an impenetrable solid faith in the God of justice and liberation that aroused a ferocious courage that would not erode to a challenge or difficulty. The genius of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black American church was the strategic practice and use of prayer, song, sermon, and direct social action that “moved” millions of people to take a protracted stand for racial justice and equality. I once heard the Rev. C.T. Vivian explain, “Building a movement for social change is about motivating and ‘moving’ people forward on the irreversible path to self-awareness, affirmation, and action to confront injustice and inequality.”
Hip-Hop is a cultural phenomenon. It represents the cognitive, expressive, and musical creativity of youth who evolved from the crucible of poverty in the South Bronx, New York. It grew among African Americans and Latino Americans whose poetry, prayers, dance, lyrics, songs, music, and art forms all reflected the genius of a generation of new freedom fighters. Poetry, music, dance, artwork and lyrics that “spit truth in da face of power” became the new order of the day that rapidly spread to every neighborhood across America and eventually throughout the world. Hip-Hop evolved to transcend race, ethnicity, class, gender, and every other social category with demands for freedom of expression and for “giving back and taking responsibility.”
The truth is that there is an inextricable connection between the Civil Rights Movement and Hip-Hop. In fact, I would offer that the Civil Rights generation gave birth to the Hip-Hop generation. Yes, there are differences in perspectives and the focus of the generational “conscience.” Our long struggle for freedom, justice, and equality cannot afford to reach a place where either generation, for whatever the perceived reason, cannot and will not speak to the other with a sense of dignity, understanding, and mutual respect.
This subject requires a deeper analysis and over the next several weeks, I intend to present and reflect on these issues for the sake of clarity and to promote a better understanding and appreciation by all who want to contribute to helping our families and communities improve their quality of life. I am an optimist. We do not have time for hopelessness, pessimism, or cynicism. I thank God for both the Civil Rights Movement and for Hip-Hop. Now let’s all work together and help make the world a better place for everyone.
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