During the last week of July, Asheru led the first of his Hip Hop Educational Literacy Program (H.E.L.P.) workshop series at Artisphere in Arlington, VA, and it was a truly amazing experience! Using the Mos Def song, “New World Water”, and H.E.L.P. workbooks, students had the chance to assemble in Artisphere’s Dome Theatre for a multimedia workshop exploring the many uses and abuses of water around the world. From water scarce communities like in Angola, Africa, to water ravished communities like New Orleans, LA, and extremely water polluted areas such as the Gulf Coast in the Southeastern part of the US. From there, participants broke into smaller groups to create art and media projects with Guerilla Artists, Quest Skinner and Khalil Gill. With Quest, the students painted a beautiful, 12 foot mural with the theme of water conservation, and with Khalil, students were able to make a series of short, 30-second PSAs illustrating ways that we all can pitch in to conserve and make better use of water. The students were a part of Progressive Educational Experiences in Cooperative Cultures (www.PEECC.org) summer program, and came to the workshop as a culminating activity to their summer enrichment around environmental awareness and empowerment.
Here is a recent article promoting the HELP series of workshops at Artisphere:
More workshops to come, for both students and teachers! Please visit Artisphere.com for more info and to enroll yourself or your child! Scholarships available to Arlington residents.
How harmful is media to urban youth? By Chris Miller, for Akron Citizen Journalist
he most damaging influence to inner-city youth might not be found on the street corner, but inside of the television, according to presenters at a recent conference in Akron.
“Black children watch more TV than any other group,” said Dr. John Queener, clinical director of the Minority Behavioral Health Group and an associate professor in the Department of Counseling at The University of Akron. Add this to the belief that African-Americans are stereotyped negatively on TV, he said, and “our children are watching more negative stereotypes of themselves than any other group, and we wonder why they act crazy.”
Queener joined other high profile guest speakers, including MC Lyte, and delved into the media’s impact on urban youth and their communities for the “Pop Culture and the Media” conference at the Quaker Hilton in downtown Akron.
The conference, hosted by Keepers of the Art, was part of a weekend’s worth of events, which concluded with the 4th Annual Hip-Hop Showcase at Lock 3.
Critical thinking skills are especially important when processing media images, said Queener. “The mass media actually sets the agenda for many of us if you don’t use critical thinking skills. They tell us what’s important, what’s not important, what we should be doing, what we should not be doing. And most of the time, from a psychological level, we don’t even realize when it’s happening to us.”
Other conference speakers offered perspectives from inside the media. MC Lyte, for example, has never taken the responsibility of being a hip-hop artist lightly. The form of music “is the foundation upon which we have learned to dress, to speak, to communicate,” said Lyte, the event’s keynote speaker.
She said the influence of hip-hop music, however, has been taken for granted. “I think we’ve lost sight of it, but I do not think it’s lost,” Lyte added.
HELP for inner-city youth
Gabriel “Asheru” Benn has harnessed the power of hip-hop music as a vital teaching tool, reaching students who would otherwise lose interest in traditional teaching materials.
“We want to empower our students to be producers, not just consumers,” said Benn, who is director of arts integration at a Southeast Washington, D.C. high school.
“Learn how to creatively break down what’s being force fed to you,” said Benn, who conducts “culturally responsive teaching,” which uses cultural references to reach out to his students. “Almost every lesson that I’ve done or I encourage teachers to do, we use a projector, we use a laptop, we use the Internet. To just use a textbook nowadays in 2011 is not going to work.”
Benn, an established hip-hop artist whose voice can be heard performing the theme song to the “Boondocks” TV show, founded the Hip-Hop Educational Literacy Program (HELP), which incorporates lyrics from well-known artists to help students read and understand critical issues like conservation.
He said the HELP program is designed to work for any instructor, even a middle-aged white female teacher in the Midwest. “(HELP) is one of the most innovative supplemental teaching tools that I’ve ever come across,” said Ismail Al-Amin, executive director of Keepers of the Art, who added that bringing curriculum to the students that’s more reflective of their “social capital” results in more young people staying in school.
Benn also is founder of Guerilla Arts Ink, a community-based arts and education organization that uses elements like visual art, literature and music to bring out the potential within young people. The group recruits, trains and hires artists and young professionals of various media and background experience to become “Guerilla Artists” and collaboratively work with students.
To emphasize the effectiveness of his program, Benn showed attendees some of the media his students have created, from slideshows and videos to audio mix tapes.
Motivational speaker Brian Heat examined the notion of “swagger” in the media, which he defines as “an air of confidence displayed through style of dress, flavor and basic individuality.” TV, radio, magazines and other types of pop culture influence young peoples’ idea of swagger, said Heat. Sometimes even pop culture can be offensive, he added. “And if we don’t monitor what we’re ingesting, next thing you know, we start becoming.”
He warns against letting the media’s image “become your image.” For example, when rapper Lil Wayne became popular, Heat said he could find 2,000 black males on the campus he worked at who looked just like Wayne.
Encouraging those in attendance to redefine their swagger, Heat said one must first discover their personal truth, which includes values, beliefs, dreams and desires. One must also discover their personal passion, create an unstoppable force (or channeling passion into skills and education), be prepared to outwork everybody and “rock the world.”
Heat and other speakers at the event said that one’s sense of individuality might be lost when trying to emulate famous media figures.
As an example of the overwhelming influence of media personalities, Snooki from the popular TV show “Jersey Shore” recently spoke at Rutgers University, said Heat, and she was paid $40,000 and spoke for at least 40 minutes about how to get a sun tan.
This conference is critical because we live in a time when major media outlets are shrinking, said Al-Amin from Keepers of the Art, who added that larger media entities are typically less diverse. “The media outlets tend to represent the special interests of that small few,” he said. “And that’s an issue; especially when it comes to urban communities. The media represents urban communities in very narrow perspectives.”
As such, he recommends that consumers of media who live in the inner cities ask themselves how the media is affecting their neighborhoods, families and communities and ask themselves, “Is it good for me?”
For more information, visit www.keepersoftheart.com.
This was a moving moment, I had the honor of performing alongside HHP in support of several thousand student protesters in Cape Town, South Africa. Organized by Equal Education (EE), a community member organization that advocates for quality and equality in the South African education system and engages in evidence-based activism for improving all of the nation’s schools. On this day, they assembled students in Capetown to rally to increase the number of libraries in the nation’s schools. Currently there are only 8% of schools with suitable libraries, so they took to the streets demanding EQUAL EDUCATION FOR ALL!!! It was amazing to see these students take to the streets, determined to make a political change thru non-violent means. After this performance, the students grabbed picket signs and marched to Parliament House to make their list of demands felt. The whole experience was eye-opening and reminiscent of the videos we used to watch on the civil rights movement 40 years ago here in the States.
Equal Education held a hugely important and completely successful event on Human Rights Day, 21 March 2010. This event represents the full arrival of a major new force in South African civil society.
Today, more than 10 000 people gathered on the Grand Parade in Central Cape Town in support of Equal Education’s Campaign for School Libraries and Human Rights Concert.
Those assembled marched on to Parliament where they delivered a Memorandum endorsed by more 50 organisations, petitions signed by 65 000 people, and copies of EE’s research report into school libraries, to the Director-General of Basic Education, Mr. Bobby Soobrayan.
Equal Education is campaigning for every school in South Africa to have a fully functional library. At present, this is only true for 8 percent of public schools. Phathiswa Shushwana, a grade 10 learner at Luhlaza High School and a member of Equal Education, gave a brilliant speech emphasising that education is a basic right and that poor areas are in desperate need of libraries, as learners in these areas don’t have books at home. She added that libraries improve literacy as well as motivate students.
COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, pledged COSATU’s full support for EE’s campaign, and said that every school ought to have a library, a laboratory and proper infrastructure. He encouraged teachers to support the Campaign and to play a greater role in improving the education system. Similarly, he encouraged students to be disciplined, to arrive on time all the time, and to do their homework. Asked for his thoughts on the march, Vavi said that it took him back to his youth as a leader in the student movement in the 1980s, and that it was exciting to be part of this event.
Simphiwe Dana referred to herself as “a survivor of Bantu Education, not a product of it” and said that her mind survived partly because she had books in her school library. She urged government to restore dignity back to the children of South Africa.
HHP was the main performer of the day. He said that the onus is on learners to take responsibility for their education and future, and that today was a historic day because everyone was pulling together for change.
Yoliswa Dwane of Equal Education, in the final address to the crowd, said: “Today, the majority of children in South Africa are not able to read, write and count adequately, and this is mainly because of poor quality education and unequal access to resources in South African education.” Adding that, “unless, inequalities are addressed in this education system it will not transform our society and it will continue crippling and killing softly those who attend working class schools.”
Notably, Nobel Prize winning author, Wole Soyinka, Prof Njabulo Ndebele, Vuyiseka Dubula, Graeme Bloch and Cheryl Carolus were also in attendance.
For more info, and to find out how to get involved, please visit: http://www.equaleducation.org.za/
Below is the newest commercial for H.E.L.P., the Hip Hop Educational Literacy Program…
The S.H.A.R.P. program in Washington, DC encourages students to express themselves through hip-hop. By writing lyrics, rapping, and creating music tracks, the students are empowered to speak openly about their identities and life experiences.