Hip hop has taken major hits over the years for a history, perceived by some as a troubling caricature of African-American males toting guns and degrading women.
Civic leaders and public officials have protested hip-hop culture and the music’s misogynistic and sometimes violent lyrics have sparked national debate. Yet community organizers like Fanon Hill and Sam Christian Holmes have come up with their own way to combat stereotypes of Black men in the mainstream media by simply promoting more positive images.
Through the non-profit community arts organization, Art on Purpose, Hill and Holmes will spearhead the Black Male Identity Project (BMI), a new initiative to change the public perception of Black men by using the influential mediums of the arts, media and public forums.
“Black Male Identity is more than an extracurricular activity and the perception of African-American males in Baltimore City is base on deficits. We wanted to acknowledge the rich, vibrant reality that there are African-American men who are healthy in Baltimore City who are producing great outcomes,” said Hill, co-director for the project.
BMI will include a series of workshops, performances, celebrations and exhibitions along with a comprehensive art-based website, www.morethan28days.com. This website operates as a social network open for everyone (regardless of race and gender) to share artwork, photos and stories about Black men.
Hill believes BMI’s performance component will serve as a good platform for rappers seeking to spread an encouraging message with their music. “I always like to share with people that hip-hop achieved within 20 years what rock n’ roll never achieved, and we’re talking about the full penetration of every continent in the world,” proclaimed Hill.
“So within this project, recognizing hip-hop as a powerful medium … we want to provide an opportunity for local Baltimore base hip-hop artists … we want to make sure that they are being given an opportunity to be recognized. ”
This project is largely funded by the Campaign for Black Men Achievement (CBMA), a program created under the Open Society Foundation as a movement to further establish the social progression of African-American males. At the program’s official launch in March, several community leaders came out to show their support. Some thought the program was vital to the city and long overdue.
“I think the greater successes and the greater challenges of Baltimore are really wrapped around how we perceived, how we address, how we deal with how we invest in African-American men in our community, said Otis Rolley, a 2011 Baltimore City mayoral candidate.
U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., also attended the BMI launch and offered some poignant insight on the plight of African-American boys and why this initiative is important for them.
“When I think about men who have been able to achieve some things and African-American men who do well and boys who do well, it usually starts with someone having high expectations of them,” said Cummings. “And what has happened too often is folks will see a Black boy come into a classroom and already stereotype them. They have low expectations … If people do not have high expectations of you, it’s hard for you to dream.”