IGNITE 2012 EVENT COVERAGE
“Well, should Obama be the president of Black America?” –This question has been raised increasingly since the 2008 Presidential election, and it was now being posed to a group of writers, entertainment personalities and hip-hop artists on a breezy Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
This controversial topic was one of many during the first panel of the day for the final stop on the Ignite 2012 tour. Panelists included, hip-hop journalist Dream Hampton, former host of BET’s 106 & Park, Rocsi Diaz, SOURCE Magazine, Editor-In-Chief, Kim Osorio and many other community leaders and activists.
“Could Obama do more?” —“Yes,” Rocsi Diaz interjected but, she’s happy with the work that the president has done for the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The president signed The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities in 2010 which included a proposed $98 million increase to funding for HBCU’s. Diaz added that Governor Mitt Romney is very open about the demographic he represents and serves and that there is nothing wrong with the President supporting African Americans.
Panelist Deion Jordan, a seventeen-year-old young leader and member of The Philadelphia Youth Commission, entered the conversation claiming that Blacks in America need to see themselves not as “Black Americans” but as Americans.
“I consider myself an American. Race is philosophical nonsense,” Jordan added.
The crowd erupted into an uproar with this comment but moderator Biko Baker, Executive Director of The League of Young Voters politely asked the crowd to let the young man speak.
Jordan, pointed out that there are many credible universities that don’t qualify as HBCU’s that are in need of funding as well. Jordan will be attending Haverford College upon graduating from High School next year.
Hip-hop journalist, Dream Hampton, added that the POTUS should feel a responsibility to represent the African-American community because of the integral part the community played in getting the president elected. Exit polls from 2008 show that President Obama won approximately 96% of the black vote, with Black women voting at higher percentages than black men.
The feeling of abandonment when it comes to the president’s representation of issues plaguing African-Americans is not new at all. Most of the panelists agreed that many successful blacks begin to separate themselves from the community upon becoming successful.
“With successful people, it seems as if blacks are scared to be black [publicly], there is a sense that when you speak out on something that is a “black issue” and you have some sort of esteem, you are doing something wrong– as if, when you endorse your own, it’s seen as reverse racism,” journalist Andreas Hale added.
SOURCE magazine Editor-In-Chief, Kim Osorio agreed with Hale’s theory of desertion as she recounted the many artists whose careers were launched by The Source magazine, but who decline interviews when asked now.
“Certain artists get to a certain level and they don’t want to do The Source anymore; they’d rather be on Rolling Stone or GQ,” Osorio said.
Many of the megastars like Sean “P.Diddy” Combs and Jay-Z have used their influence to encourage people to get involved with the political process. One may recall the excitement behind the “Rock The Vote” movement during the 2008 Presidential campaign.
I too, remember being in my sophomore year at Temple University running down Broad Street to see Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce and other stars perform for free to get the youth mobilized about voting.
Many, including rapper and panelist, Jasiri X, have wondered if the hip-hop community has fallen short in the months leading up to November’s presidential election with efforts to keep the youth motivated and engaged in the political process.
Tarik Ross, of Stampede Management believes that when it comes to hip-hop’s role in civic engagement, it is just a different time. Ross doesn’t believe today’s artists can be compared with emcees like KRS-1, and other more conscious rappers from the 90’s. “Hip-hop culture is still just as powerful, there’s just less focus on being lyricists,” Ross said.
Dream Hampton, who co-authored rapper Jay-Z’s book, “Decoded,” doesn’t believe the hip-hop community should be expected to do anything.
“Jay is doing what he can do,” Hampton said. “Why is he held to such high political responsibility? It’s our responsibility to peer educate; all of these wannabe rappers should want to be activists. Would it be nice if the mainstream artists cared more? — “Yes” but, Hampton added, “each individual, no matter your occupation, should help one another [become more politically aware], not just celebrities. Churches and spiritual leaders should be leading those movements; we need more youth leaders.”
Hampton isn’t a fan of this sensationalized popular idea of “celebrity”, which is one of the reasons she asked not to be photographed and declined my request for an on-camera interview. Hampton talked candidly with me about the power and influence of social media and how enthralled our generation is with sharing ourselves so freely through pictures, and constant status updates.
Other panel discussion topics included how men in the hip-hop industry can do a better job of protecting African American women.
“Be intentional about what we do; stop supporting women that take their clothes off to rap and stop being afraid to love,” Hip-Hop pioneer, Paradise Gray offered as one way to make a change for black women in the hip-hop industry.
Brandon Wyche, CEO of Hiphopsince1987.com believes that more “respect records” should be made for women to set a trend while Tarik Ross believes we should be honoring the women in our community that are making positive strides.
Kim Osorio knows how hard it is to be a woman in the male dominated industry of hip-hop all too well, having won a lawsuit filed against The Source Magazine in 2006 claiming unlawful termination for filing a complaint of gender discrimination, as well as a defamation suit against the owners of the magazine.
Osorio credits the misogynistic views of women in the industry partly to the current sensationalism with female exotic dancers. Osorio also wants women to be responsible and held accountable for “not always doing things that are constructive,” which adds to the negative portrayal of women of color in hip-hop culture. She wants people to understand that these things are for entertainment purposes only and not to be taken seriously.
The issue of violence and its alarming rates in the African American community was another topic of discussion.
“It makes people too much money,” Paradise Gray said. Gray noted that the images of violence in hip-hop serve as a perpetual money-maker for businesses which set young black men up for jail or death.
Rapper and activist Jasiri X, cited that blacks are to blame as well for the perpetuation of violence by supporting many of the violent images and artists. “Through our own dollars, we finance our own destruction,” X said.
The conversation closed with a performance by Rapper Dee 1 and a charge to the young people to stay motivated and involved with the community.
The event was organized by The League of Young Voters Education Fund and The Philadelphia Youth Commission.
View event photos here.