Saturday, December 12, 2009

“We literally have to change their climate… their social climate”

My son and I love introducing one another to the music we enjoy and that moves us. He is 26 years old and I'm...well let's just say that I've been a card-carrying member of AARP for some time.

There are quite a few artists that we were both into from the beginning including Miles Davis, Bob Marley, and B.B. King. I can take credit for turning him on to Smokey Robinson, Dr. John (especially during his "Night Tripper" days), St. Vincent, and Bob Dylan (we saw him perform in Boston last month and were blown away). He, in turn, introduced me to hip hop artists who deliver incredibly powerful socio-political messages like Outkast, Welfare Poets, Erykah Badu, and Dead Prez.

He's a community organizer with his feet planted firmly on the ground committed to social justice. My head's stuck in the clouds, tilted at wind turbines, in search of solutions to climate change. A few years ago, I would have thought: "Never the 'twain shall meet."

I received an email from him a couple of days ago with the following article attached. (GW)

The Greening of Hip-Hop

By Eric Arnold
December 9, 2009

Rappers Address Climate Change and Sustainability

This article was first published by Race, Poverty & the Environment, a project of Urban Habitat.

Twenty-year-old aspiring rapper Tre Pound was born in San Francisco’s Hunters Point, a predominantly low-income community of color with the dubious distinction of housing the two most toxic Superfund sites in the United States, as well as power and sewage treatment plants. Asthma, cancer and diabetes rates in that area are all disproportionately higher than in other parts of the Bay Area. “I kinda knew where I was living wasn’t environmentally safe,” said Pound, but the public school he attended provided little information about industrial pollution or climate change.

Pound said he frequently incorporates socially aware themes into his music, but he had never made an environmentally aware rap song until he signed up to compete in Grind for the Green’s (G4G) Eco-Rap battle in August. He ended up winning the competition, earning a $1000 prize and studio time, by outpacing several other contestants with his eco-friendly flow during G4G’s second annual free concert at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.

Pound is just one voice in the growing number of youth voices engaged in community organizing for social change. Millions of young people around the world participate in social activism. According to Wiretap magazine, there are more than 600 youth-led community organizations currently creating green jobs, removing toxic waste, combating corporate pollution and fighting against violence in their communities.

The undeniable reality of climate change speaks to the need for greater awareness and eco-sustainability among inner-city residents and people of color. Green has become the new face of youth activism, and today’s urban eco-activists use hip-hop as their medium.

Powered entirely by solar panels, the G4G event attracted hundreds of youth, their parents, community members, hip-hop fans and members of other environmental activism groups, like Green for All, Alliance for Climate Education and Bay Localize.

G4G Executive Director Zakiya Harris said she is utilizing hip-hop to focus young people’s attention on environmental issues. “We have to make it culturally relevant and engaging,” she explained. According to of Dead Prez, who headlined the concert, the green hip-hop movement is about empowerment, information and economics—allowing people to “stop being just consumers and victims of corporations,” while “producing and providing those alternative resources that we need.”

During the concert, Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. showcased his community-minded side with material like “If ‘If’ Was a Fifth”—in which he muses: “What if poverty was gone and there was no more war and hunger?” At the conclusion of his performance, he announced that he was donating his $3,500 performance fee to the upcoming Green Youth Media Center, a joint project between G4G, Art in Action, Weapons of Mass Expression and other progressive nonprofit organizations.

The first of its kind in California, the Green Youth Media Center symbolizes the hope of green hip-hop activists like G4G’s Harris and Ambessa Cantave and Art in Action’s Galen Peterson, who envision similar centers opening up all over the United States.

The center, which opened its doors in October, is a green building offering vocational, arts, and new-media training; music production; youth-leadership and violence-prevention training; and green-jobs education; as well as creating green revenue streams by selling art, music and merchandise produced by its participants.

In order to teach urban youngsters about climate change, “We literally have to change their climate… their social climate,” Cantave explained. “We’ve related [climate change] to their health. It goes back to telling the story of something they already know; where they’re from.”


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