Editor’s note: You won’t find cultural organizing and applying the arts to social justice in today’s Common Core State Standards. But for more than a decade, a passionate group of urban educators and artists have coalesced around the belief that the arts and community organizing are powerful tools to help young people develop the kind of higher-order thinking skills that are necessary to thrive in the 21st century economy.
Hip-Hop culture has been central to this movement, providing multiple occasions for transformation among its young practitioners and the communities to which they are connected. A recent report from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development concludes:
Given the importance and presence of Hip-Hop in the lives of youth, Hip-Hop has great potential to impact their educational experiences. Hip-Hop Education lives within Hip-Hop’s power to adopt, redefine, and D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself). Education is embedded throughout Hip-Hop history, making the study of its culture, leaders, literature, music, movies, and artifacts essential to the exploration and growth of the Hip-Hop Education movement. In communities around the nation, youth are learning to organize and build community, collaborate on music, publish books, and start businesses through Hip-Hop. Not enough prominence is given to the ways that Hip-Hop–based education and pedagogy can be used to transform our society. Hip-Hop culture has rendered a movement that is intimately accessible, educational, visceral, and real.
This blog post from by Paul Kuttner, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, showcases a recent video project produced with youth at Boston’s Project Hip-Hop, a youth-led organization that has worked at the intersection of arts and organizing for almost 20 years.
Reprinted with permission from Paul Kuttner @ culturalorganizing.org
I am extremely proud to be able to share the following video. This piece is the result of a three-month participatory video-research project I had the pleasure to work on with some of the youth at Project HIP-HOP (PHH).
For the past year I have been partnering with PHH as a researcher, documenting their cultural organizing work. Partway through the project, the PHH staff and I were looking for ways to make the research more participatory—to do research with the youth rather than simply on them. At the same time, Ashleigh, one of the young leaders, was advocating for the group to create a video about the organization to help with recruitment. We decided to merge these two ideas into one project.
The result was a video-based research project centered around the question, “What is Project HIP-HOP?” I offered support to three of the young leaders—Ashleigh, Kassa, and Nailah—as they developed research questions, designed interview protocols, and interviewed a mix of members, leaders, staff, and a parent. I typed up the transcripts, and two of the youth and I coded the interviews for emerging themes. These themes became our guide, as we edited interviews together with footage from PHH events and newly-filmed footage to produce the ten minutes you see below. I was thrilled by the resulting video, and the insightful work of these young cultural organizers. This is Project HIP-HOP: Enjoy!
Want to learn more about hip hop, activism, and education? Here are good places to start:
HSRA began as a pilot program developed by Studio 4 Enterprises in Minneapolis, MN. After a recording career with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Prince, David T.C. Ellis started Studio 4 as a recording production facility. Eventually, youth from the community who were at significantly high risk for dropping-out of school starting exhibiting an interest in the studio and recording their music. In 1998 it grew into a full-fledged (charter) school, dedicated to providing youth the opportunity to achieve a high school diploma through the exploration and operation of the music business and other creative endeavors.
The Hip Hop Congress (HHC) is a non profit, international grassroots organization. Its mission is to evolve hip hop culture by inspiring social action and creativity within the community. The Congress currently works with more than 30 chapters on university campuses, high schools, and communities. The organization throws hip hop culture awareness festivals, concerts, academic discussions, and movie screenings.
99problems.org (a project of the League of Youth Voters Education Fund)
Launched January 20, 2009, 99Problems.org is a site that combines new media, investigative journalism and pop culture to engage a young demographic on local inner city issues from a hip-hop perspective. The site was influential in banding together awareness among urban youths and minorities for the 2008 election of President Barack Obama and aggressively courts the urban, hip-hop, and underground arts communities of America with thought provoking and investigative news stories about real people harnessing political power to make changes in their own lives.
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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”
– Deborah Meier, educator