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Hip Hop Can Make the World a Better Place

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“I like the person that you are, but I’m in love with the person that you have potential to be.” – Wale

Hip Hop For Change and the Sierra Club are teaming up to take on the topic of environmental justice in marginalized communities. The 3rd Annual Environmental Equity Summit will be held at Berkeley’s Cornerstone venue on Dec. 9 and although it promises to be fun with Talib Kweli headlining, the focal point of the summit is rather heavy. Like so many other industries and causes, people of color are sorely underrepresented and disproportionately affected. This is just one issue of many that HH4C hopes to positively change, through the power of hip-hop.

Image courtesy of BehindTheRhyme

According to USA Today, “rap” (defined as R&B/hip-hop) has surpassed rock and country music in global popularity. Simply, more people around the world are listening to hip-hop than any other genre. The problem there is that the imaging mainstream media moguls have pushed is destructive to the very communities and cultures that create the music. The executives at the top (who have likely never stepped foot in the hood) tend to cling to the same tired hooks that promote violence and misogyny as an easy way to generate profit. Selling negative rhetoric may not weigh heavily on the minds of those pocketing the money, but it does weigh on communities that suffer under those stereotypes.

One Oakland-based organization is on a mission to change that, in a really big way.

Hip Hop For Change. Graphic courtesy of Facebook

Hip Hop For Change sees the potential in hip hop to be a conduit for a better world. The nonprofit organization seeks to reclaim the genre from the claws of corporate media giants who they believe have propagated negative stereotypes surrounding the music and the culture. Their goal is to turn the manufactured archetype on its heads by using the very same demonized hip-hop culture to build up marginalized communities, reminding people of the potential they have individually and collectively to change their worlds.

Through education, empowerment and efficacy, HH4C founder and director Khafre Jay shares confidence he’s attained through years of stage performance and experience he’s racked up in community activism, merging the two worlds to bring new generations into the grassroots activism fold to achieve great things. Their three primary goals include: changing the perception of hip-hop culture in general, showcasing progressive and positive messaging often overlooked in mainstream media; empowering a diverse and inclusive organizational structure that tends to basic needs like healthcare, living wage and a respectful working environment; and building an “infrastructure for justice in the hood.”

The “justice” piece is broad in scope. To HH4C, justice is access to real food, educational opportunities and needed resources, respect and safety in communities, environmental health and reduction of poverty. The big goals match the overwhelming needs in communities of color and although the one organization is acutely aware it cannot fix every problem overnight, it expands its reach by building people up to continue the work, to take on those challenges through life.

In essence, HH4C is bringing local hip-hop back to its natural roots, back to the core of using music to express realities inside communities and then evolving the message into action items, providing people, and especially youth, with the tools to go beyond expression and effect actual change. Through various programs like internships, community micro-grants, fundraising and events, Khafre and team are literally arming communities with knowledge and resources to become their own best advocates. They are challenging people to better their own worlds by bettering themselves.

The Dec. 9 event at Cornerstone in Berkeley will focus on inclusion of POC inside the environmental movement, which is long past due considering that communities of color are often the most vulnerable to environmental concerns and most impacted by bad policies (the story surrounding bad/illegal/corrupt practices by government environmental contractors at Hunters Point is an excellent example of that impact). Through music, conscientious vendors, expert panels and idea exchange, HH4C hopes the 3rd Annual Environmental Equity Summit will raise awareness, inspire POC to join the advocacy charge in protecting their own neighborhoods and educate the environmental NGOs in how they can address the needs of marginalized communities by including them in the discussion.

Greenaction protests environmental racism at Hunters Point. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Bay View

The event page makes some claims about the demographic makeup of the environmental movement:

“The environmental movement has a long history of elitism and racism. Many POC participants in the green movement testify that large environmental groups rarely address the needs of or collaborate with communities of color. The Green 2.0 campaign released a study in 2015 showing that POC makes less than 17% of the 300 environmental organizations surveyed. 95% of these groups’ governing boards were White.”

If you have any interest helping rectify that disparity, attending the summit is a good first step.

3rd Annual Environmental Equity Summit event flyer, courtesy of Hip Hop For Change

The event will cost you $25 at the door or $20 in advance (tickets can be purchased here). Doors open at 7 p.m. so you can grab a spot to catch the opening acts (Niko Is, Rocky Rivera and Earth Amplified) and make your way around the vendor booths. If you’re looking for a good cause and a good time, we can’t imagine a better way to spend $20.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.