Hip-hop activist shares insights

Bakari Kitwana, political activist, analyst, writer and hip-hop advocate, gave a lecture last Thursday detailing young America’s role in the new economy and their connection to hip-hop and politics.

The event, which took place in the Little Theatre, was sponsored by Student Affairs as part of the University’s Academic Lecture series. This year’s theme is “Global Citizenship – Our Responsibility.”

Kitwana, a Long Island native, offered dozens of statistics that illustrated the living environment college-aged people enter post-graduation. The country’s failing high school system, incarceration rates, government morality, job loss and the income gap were high on the list of his factors that contribute to our economic environment.

“When he said over 60 million people were incarcerated…that’s a personal connection because both of my brothers have been locked up,” said Ashlee Chatfield, a freshman.

Kitwana drew connections between hip-hop audiences and their concern for the economy, and its ability to motivate and help young people create jobs for themselves.

In November 2008, Kitwana commissioned a study conducted by Knowledge Networks that examined the way youth feel about the economy.

He said that the primary concern of college-aged youth during the presidential election was the economy. He offered the election of President Barack Obama as proof.

“They [young people] put him in office,” he said.

Kitwana said the central problem in getting young people involved in economic and political endeavors isn’t bringing them on board, but keeping them on board. He said joining organizations and staying connected with like-minded people is an ideal way to keep students mobilized and prevent them from becoming stagnant.

Kitwana said that young people could create
job opportunities for themselves by striving to hold the president and other elected officials accountable for their actions, using hip-hop as a political catalyst.

“The goal of my work is always to try to motivate,” Kitwana said. “We have to be engaged.”

Kitwana detailed the global impact of hip-hop artists and their ability to push political messages to the masses. He praised the efforts of artists such as The Last Poets, Afrika Baambataa, and KRS-One who in the 1980s used ’60s style politics to energize their audiences.

“The power and reach of hip-hop is what’s exciting to me,” Kitwana explained. “I’m interested in tapping into the influence of Jay-Z.”

Using current events and the interests of the hip-hop generation, Kitwana said songs like “Georgia Bush” by Lil ‘Wayne, and Jadakiss’ “Why” help hip-hop stay relevant.

“It’s not predictable,” he said. “With the
tools that come with trying to oppress people come the tools to liberate them.”

For additional information about Bakari Kitwana, see the Q&A on Pg. 10.