HERU: Hip Hop Literacy X Entertainment Justice = Young Digital Economies
I am BRYCE, an executive record producer, performing artist, and native Detroiter. Recently, I have re-purposed my career in pop music to serving youth and building sustainable communities through economic justice, expressed through entertainment media arts.
My entry into the world of popular education is via my youth media literacy organization- the HERU Organization, where we develop youth through media literacy and digital media arts skills training. Our mission is to help youth and young adults become radiant, self-actualizing individuals who can both effectively communicate their reality as well as authentically tell the stories of love, innovation, and sustainability around them.
These aspects of their lives are most often non-existent from corporate-owned media narratives, and so we believe that it is important that we construct counter narratives that capture (and speak to) the truth of our most beautiful and loving identities. I facilitate these kinds of interactions with media through multiple roles, including executive director of HERU, program director for the 5e Gallery and as a lead coordinator for the Detroit Future Youth Network
Heru: Teaching Context
The context for our media literacy programming is youth self-empowerment and entrepreneurship. For us, the first fundamental act of self-love and empowerment is the intentional establishment and nurturing of a positive self-image, that is based on clearly defined principles and values.
Given the unique roles that pop-culture and entertainment media play in shaping the self-images and personalities of our young people, we start first by exposing young people to tools of media analysis and methods of message deconstruction. It is through this lens that our young people begin to realize the corporate origins and interests behind the myriad false cultural narratives and damning ethnic stereotypes oppressing the spirit and psyche of their communities.
Below is a piece of media documenting the creation and production of a hip hop media message speaking about the media’s influence on youth’s perceptions on underage drinking.
Once young people become aware of the roots and causes of the negative and self-destructive self-images that dominate the broadcasts, and compete for market share of their conscious thoughts, they are then empowered to choose positive points of inherent self-value over corporate media-implanted criminalistic behaviors.
For the HERU, entrepreneurship is the act of self-determination to create and access economic opportunities, based on one’s refined skill or talents. To that point- our young people are engaged to express their media literacy and activate their agency through the development of digital multimedia arts skills (record production, graphic design, photography, videography/editing, digital music composition) in workshop and professional project settings.
The digital media arts allow our young people to nurture their positive self-images by creating media with which they can authentically tell their own stories and curate the many beautiful narratives of love and solidarity being written in their communities every day.
Below is a piece of media documenting a 19-year old HERU media mentor, recording vocals for his debut hip hop album “Kold as BRYCE”.
Developing our young people in digital media arts affords the community a new population of community-minded storytellers, sustainable imagemakers, and environmentally-just creative professionals.
Heru: Youth Leadership & Digital Economies
(Song above: Entertainment art featuring 19-year old 5eHERU Biz media mentor High-Top Carter rapping about his experiences as a young media leader during the DML 2013 Conference)
HERU- Growing Youth Leadership and Digital Economies:
- economics– the science of satisfying a lifetime’s wants and needs with limited or scarce natural resources.
- youth leadership– a young person’s ability to create a unique idea or plan, from their own imagination, that they themselves can further develop and ultimately implement through the deliberate employment of their cognitive processing skills.
A constant refrain amongst the majority of young people in Detroit is “we can’t find a job.” Through deeper conversations in continuing workshops, our young people were facilitated in ‘unpacking’ the precise emotions at the center of that negative declaration. What we learned was that “we can’t find a job” fundamentally stemmed from deep feelings of insecurity about their ability to communicate and or demonstrate intelligence [skill sets] in a professional environment.
Below is a media piece, documenting a young peer-to-peer skill share. This skill share conversation the young people are having is about ‘how to think about your social media brand identity and communicate clearly to your audience.’
For some of our young people to “automatically” generate mental images of their persons being “awkward, uncomfortable, ignorant or valueless”, when asked their feelings about the teen job market (and their relation to it), speaks to a much larger and deeper issue. To HERU, these self-defeating images being generated in our young people’s minds, speaks to the issue of them holding negative points of self-identification, through which they are involuntarily projecting their self-image. These negative points of self-identification lead to the young people projecting self-defeating images of their persons, experiencing undesirable outcomes, in personal/professional scenarios.
The reason we uplift this point speaks to our view of the inherent intelligences with which we are all naturally endowed (ex. imagination, logic, synthesis.) Speaking in economic metaphor, our inherent intelligences can be seen as our very own ‘unlimited natural resources’ with which we can satisfy our lifetime’s ‘wants and needs’. All of that, to this bottomline- our young people first need to be supported in fully valuing their own intelligences as rich and powerful resources, then nurtured in cognitive processes for mining these internal resources [accessing and actualizing].
From this point, young people will be able to define their own positive points of self-identification that are then based on an awareness of and appreciation for their abundant internal resources. Once these positive points of self-identification have been clearly defined, they become the lenses through which our young people can choose to voluntarily project a new self-image.
Below is a media piece that interviews 5eHERU Biz media mentor Anina (aka DJ La Nina). In this interview she is asked to share her thoughts and points of growth regarding her experiences in our digital media literacy programming.
When young people practice voluntarily projecting positive self-images, they also grow practiced in verbally and behaviorally expressing the abilities and aspirations that correspond to these self-images. This inevitably leads to young people achieving refined clarity about the channels through which they enjoy expressing their abilities, and their vision for contributing (economically and socially) to their community using their talents and skills.
Through our unique programming environment and organizational network, we are a resource system for our young people, designed for their self-initiated, self-determined engagement. We foster self-determination amongst our young people through the primary act of ‘following their aspirational lead.’ This looks like us (as adult allies), allowing the young person’s expressed talents and aspirations to guide our thinking and inform our strategy for connecting them with our external resources, and supporting the young people in honoring their own professional intuitions and ideas (i.e. be self-led), as we co-create development opportunities.
(pic above: 5eHERU Biz Program Director Piper Carter in a videography workshop with 3 high school juniors.)
Our deliberate method of “following the young person’s lead” and intentionally fostering self-determined behaviors helps our young people to strengthen their self-identification as ‘initiators of their experieces’ and ‘architects of their personal and professional development’, as well as teaching them how to identify resources [systems] and how to align and integrate with these cooperative systems symbiotically.
Through our innovative approaches to youth leadership [self-empowerment] and digital media arts skills development, we serve to create and support new digital economies for our young people that are replete with the necessary resources (i.e. valued internal intelligences, positive points-of-self identification, media literacy education, and digital media tools) with which they can learn to articulate and ultimately satisfy all their personal and professional needs and wants (i.e. positive self-worth, transferable skills, revenue-generating opportunities, positive community narratives).
Below is a video documenting an annual programming event we organize “Dilla Youth Day” (in collaboration with the J Dilla Foundation and Whole Foods). This event and subsequent media is an example of what nuturing interal resources and providing access to external resources looks like for HERU.
Heru: Hip Hop as Literacy
21st Century Hiphop as Literacy:
“Knowing to read does not make you literate.
…….It makes you able to read. Literacy is the ability to see yourself inside the world, inside the words, to be able to connect the information you are given and see your own reflection and be able to articulate, in no certain language, how you feel about the subject matter.
Literacy is being able to understand that you are a part of the human family and your voice & story are relevant.” jessica Care moore
HERU defines literacy as one’s ability to access a particular language (body, spoken, or creative) to effectively communicate an experience (spiritual, emotional, or physical) to themselves or another individual. Like Jessica’s definition above, we see literacy as central to our humanity, and hip hop as a fundamental mechanism for understanding both ourselves more thoroughly as well as our deep interconnectedness with each other.
Below is a media piece produced by two young people from the 5eHERU Biz that highlights a young self-identifying emcee using his artistry to process, question, and communicate his feelings [vent] on a range of personal topics.
We see hip hop culture as a highly evolved, accessible, and comprehensive system of human communication. Hip hop is a vibrant and creative culture that is based on 5-fundamental elements: dj, bboy, emcee, graffitti, and knowledge [love] of self.
As a tool, we use hip hop to create and evolve our person and environment; we also use hip hop to inspire learning and positively affect behavior modification.
Inherent in our hip hop cultural expressions are the values of ancestor acknowledgement, self-determination, community-building, and intergenerational skill sharing.
For HERU, hip hop literacy is our young people lovingly projecting their reality through this rich cultural lens, to create entertainment media which shares their unique stories, and connects community members around issues that the young people themselves deem most important.
Hip Hop As Literacy: Through The Eyes Of The Young
(above media: Anthony pka Avierre the Don performs his verse (featured on “EMF” remix by Will See) which presents his views on Detroit’s emergency financial manager.)
My name is Anthony Grimmett, 20 years young. I am a Detroit Native, visual artist, emcee, youth organizer and activist. a member of the Detroit Future Youth Network, involved with the Heru Organization, East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), Young Educators Alliance (program of EMEAC), and the Detroit Youth Food Justice Task Force.
I define literacy as being able to receive information, being able to identify what information you are receiving, and understanding that information to a point where it can be applied, through creative expression.
Hip hop culture is the culture in which people are creating stories, always coming with a point of a story that is “this is how you move forward” or “this is how you do right by this”. I feel like hip hop is based in justice; I feel like hip hop is the culture of justice.
When I feel like I see hip hop or hear hip hop, is when I hear artists talking about land, food, society, and/or cultural awareness as a way to build community and grow self.
I identify as an emcee. An emcee is a one who is personally growing in justice practices despite whatever oppressive systems are set in place. I feel like emcees are messengers of either the life they are physically living, or communicating the challenges they collectively face with the people in their community.
In telling my stories, I am telling people that we are apart of the same struggles, triumphs, and same collective experience. Once we grow aware that we collectively share an experience, we begin sharing information that can help each other peacefully manuever through our shared challenges. My stories build community through creating solidarity around these shared challenges and our collective experiences.