Get Centered: Hip Hop's Power of Social Change

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On Thursday, June 23rd, the Center for Civic Innovation and A3C Hip Hop Festival and Conference helped the Center for Civil and Human Rights celebrate their second birthday. After a tour of one of our favorite Atlanta museums, CCI Founder Rohit Malhotra led a panel discussion between Killer Mike, Toni Blackman, Stic from dead prez, and Morehouse College's Professor David Wall Rice. These heavy hitters of hip hop had a hearty discussion about hip hop’s transformative role in social justice, particularly in a city that is so well known for exporting hip hop and civil rights struggles.

"Atlanta has the highest income inequality gap in the United States," remarked Malhotra. 

Atlanta can’t be a smart city unless it is an equitable city for everyone.

Malhotra then asked the panelists about their own experiences that have driven them to use their voices to raise up the experiences of their communities.

"I started writing poetry to express my emotions and deal with questions that weren't answered," responded Toni Blackman. "Poetry and rap were my only ways to express myself because I had been programmed to keep quiet.”

Similarly, Killer Mike stressed the importance of hip hop as an avenue for expression for Black men. "Rappers to Black men represent the freedom to say what you want."

These panelists, intrinsically motivated to make a difference in their communities, were often responding to the aspects of systemic racism that affected their lives most directly. From the War on Drugs to the seemingly endless cycle of police brutality and mass incarceration, "I knew that I had to do work for myself and by myself through my people," said Dr. David Wall Rice. "The fact that we have to remind people that #BlackLivesMatter is ridiculous. It should be obvious." 

So, how do artists and change makers address these issues in a way that resonates?  How do we remind people that #BlackLivesMatter and that hip hop will forever be a platform for those who are impacted by injustice day in and day out?

Stic.man seems to have the answer. “We have a habit of putting band aids over real issues instead of attacking them directly," he says. "The first human right is the right to awaken.” In other words, in order to activate their communities, individuals must realize that issues facing urban communities, especially Black urban communities, must be addressed and acted upon fiercely and unapologetically. 

Dr. David Wall Rice agrees. However, he emphasizes that change won't come without the dedication of each and every person on the forefront. "Freedom takes work; freedom isn't free. So we all have to keep doing that inner work."