Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Using Hip Hop as Cultural Text for Emancipatory Education

Umojafest P.E.A.C.E Center will be making history by opening its tentatively named Center for Hip Hop Culture, Business & Technology in the historic Central District of Seattle, Washington, this summer. While this community-owned and operated Hip Hop center is the first of its kind that will serve community youth, particularly dropouts, high-risk, and those under the criminal justice supervision, it is also a continuation of the historical struggle for an African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in the CD that reaches decades back. It will feature a digital recording studio, computer lab, video production studio and a library/reading room. The summer school at the Center for Hip Hop will coordinate culturally enriching, entrepreneurial-based activities to address social and community development through daily, open-door element and technology workshops, study sessions, and classes. An initial glimpse at the program schedule reveals DJ and producer clubs, Young Kings and Queens Leadership Development, and class titles that range from “Music History” to “Hood Politics”. Through launching a youth-led, community-centered approach to outreach, education, and violence prevention, Umojafest P.E.A.C.E Center is putting revolutionary social change theory to practice with Hip Hop Culture.

18 year old Imani Kang, the youth committee president of UPC, is development director for the summer school at the Center for Hip Hop Culture. As a drop out, she can’t tell you the benefits of a diploma, but she can quickly break down how the social construction of knowledge through dominant culture in traditional classrooms alienates youth today. “Freshman year, I attended all my classes in the beginning, but felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again. I went to Job Corp to get my GED, and during those classes, I asked myself how relevant is this? We’re taking the same classes from 4th grade to now. I took the test, and the test is so easy, and I started asking myself, is this is all I have to do to be complete? What are they really doing to us? What are you guys really teaching me?”

Her critical reflection on oppressive education systems continued to develop through watching many of her friends get driven away from school by boredom, or from being penalized for challenging what and how things were being taught up, and give up altogether. “I know kids who dropped out and haven’t gotten their GED, haven’t done anything but kick it, sometimes work, but a lot of the time, they just stop because they think that school is the only option for learning,” Imani says. “The ones who ended up pursuing something after dropping out, it’s because they find something that they’re interested in, something that keeps them there. Some aren’t fortunate to find that. The Hip Hop Center will be one more way to get one more person there.”

Assuming the agency to reinvent education through Hip Hop culture is a powerful and strategic move toward self empowerment for today’s youth, especially for those who’ve inherently rejected the role of being passive objects in the school enterprise. “School is a closed box, they teach only what they want you to know, like closing one eye on one side. Our school is resistance to that because we want wanna keep both eyes open, we want to see everything. Our idea is for these classes to be open conversations, collaborative ideas, rather than having students be sitting and watching. We have so many volunteers and special guests that are already lined up; it’s exciting,” says Imani with a smile. For more information on how to get involved, or to show your support, email Imani Kang at mani.sue@gmail.com.

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