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Hip Hop Literacy X Entertainment Justice = Young Digital Economies E-book Entry

Written by Bryce Anderson-Small
October 08, 2013

On a macro-level, there exists a global corporate mass media and communications industrial complex that has proven throughout its infrastructural existence to propagate problematic narratives and messages regarding the diaspora of ancient African descendants, throughout the world. Over all major channels of mass-media distribution, negative racial stereotypes abound, and pictures of destructive and debased criminal-consumer behaviors are attached to a primarily black and brown urban demographic. An unfortunate response by the public is a call for increased criminal justice measures, which has created dehumanizing conditions for young people in particular, the worst of which manifests as racial brutality and the exodus of “black and brown young men” from their communities to the private-prison industry.
When we look at the major implications of these exploitative corporate narratives on a micro, localized level, then we see a clear connection between the manifestation of self-destructive behaviors within our communities, and one of their root causes being the constant exposure to subhuman, criminal, misogynistic, and genocidal points of self-identification via corporate mass media and corporate entertainment. Urban young people are consuming images of themselves on major radio/tv programs, and increasingly on the internet, that show women and men who look like them, celebrating behaviors that correlate to sex/prostitution, drug, and professional killer self-identities. This presents to us a clear problem, as well as an even clearer solution: empower young people to counter these corporate-sponsored messages through creating their own justice-based entertainment media.
In present-day Detroit, a city whose rich cultural legacy of creative innovation is responsible for revolutionizing industry and entertainment in the 20th century, we are brimming with brilliant young creators who are growing up in an era where hip hop is the dominant cultural expression in pop-culture entertainment. Because of hip hop culture’s heavy influence on the aesthetic of pop music and cultural media, our young people have the opportunity to identify with images of their own culture’s expressions via mainstream media channels. Equally impactful is that hip hop as a recent pop culture phenomenon is affording our young people the opportunity to consistently see images of themselves as artistic, intellectually-expressive beings who use art and media to communicate their emotional, physical, and spiritual realities.  

In our city, there are numerous youth environmental and social justice organizations that harness the potential of media and digital tools for self-empowerment and community transformation. This speaks to the desire of our young people to engage in transformative practices using media arts, as well as the population of dedicated adults who serve them in uplifting their personal and collective voices. For my organization the HERU, we work to create impactful and sustainable intergenerational collaborations, (ie. Detroit Future Youth Network), that serve to provide growing numbers of young people the access they desire to digital media creation tools and professional skills development. Our intent in this work, is to: support the growth of new digital economies that connect individuals across various cultural, social, and/or ethnic lines; foster a cultural environment in Detroit that is abundant in media that promotes positive points of self-identification and constructive community behaviors, and create entrepreneurial opportunities for those skilled in uplifting and producing this 21st century media.

Teaching Context

We work with young people in Detroit, between the ages of 7-22 years old, to co-create entertainment media that projects positive points of self-identification and constructive community behaviors. We work with our young people to actualize their personal and professional performance/media arts aspirations, through intergenerational professional development and digital media tools training. We assist young people in clearly defining their positive points of self-identification and personal values, as well as co-develop methods for successfully projecting these identities and values in their lives and media.

Through media literacy, we serve to inspire our young people to ask critical questions, as well as work with them to develop cognitive processes that will allow deeper levels of reflection, introspection, and insight into their own behaviors, identities, and community issues. Together, we use the digital media projects our young people initiate as opportunities to help them unpack their socially-derived points of self-identity, corporate-mass media programmed consumer values/conditioned behaviors, and make connections with how these factors influence the way we imagine ourselves. 

Participation, Equity, and Social Connection.

The following are illustrations of how the HERU co-program directors engage our young people with shared purpose and what the expressed behaviors coming out of these interactions look like.  In a very natural way, we employ the principles of participation, equity, and social connection. My sharing reflects a unique mentor and facilitator perspective, and I will draw attention to the connections between my personal/professional ideologies (and points of identity), and how these connect to our shared 5eHERUBiz lens, which ultimately influences the ways we co-create safe and authentic engagements for connected learning and self empowerment with our young people.

 June 2011 marks the beginning of HERU Organization’s partnership with the 5e Gallery to form the 5eHERUBiz program, as well as the formation of our Detroit Future Youth Network. Anina and Shae came to our new Media literacy for youth leadership and entrepreneurship program- Anina with an interest to learn fashion photography and DJ’ing, and Shae with interests in hip hop songwriting and record production. Co-program director Piper Carter, a high-fashion photographer, facilitates Anina’s digital photography skills workshops, and  they begin with deconstructing images of women in fashion/ mainstream media. At the same time, co-program director and world-renowned DJ Sicari Ware and I lead the beat-making and record production conversations with youth, and also begin with intentional media analysis and deconstruction of corporate urban and Top 40 entertainment media. This becomes the foundation that we lay in our beginning interactions.

Over the next 16-months, Anina’s leadership identity was allowed to be nurtured through her choosing to accept the development opportunities that she asked us to arrange for her, as well as through declining opportunities she had less value for. This was a negotiation process. Some of the activities she invested in were creating 5eHERUBiz playlists, which involved what we call “digging for” [researching] music absent of misogyny, drugs, and violence. She also self-selected to musically-facilitate [lead] positive youth social events, which we called “loving community spaces.” Anina felt comfortable and free to say “No” to any opportunity presented, and to us this is a clear example of a young person lovingly owning their point(s)-of-value, or lack thereof. For me, this is an expression of practicing equity, fostering conversations with Anina that make her feel strong and clear in her freedom to invest her time and energy in whatever opportunity she chooses. Since this is in fact HER path as a young person, we program directors are simply sharing tools and helping co-navigate where Anina wants to go. Anina’s positive self-identity was nurtured in her digital photography workshops, through her being guided to define her own cultural points of beauty, and then learning to uplift those aspects through accepting apprenticeship opportunities with Piper to shoot fashion or major Detroit cultural events. 

Shae’s identities as an emcee, youth leader, and entrepreneur were also nurtured through a similar process; through his self-selection to perform at youth open-mics hosted by the 5E Gallery, he was able to practice and demonstrate behaviors that advanced the recording and co-producing of his own hip hop songs with AEeTech, and subsequently booking himself at local cultural events. Later on in June of 2013, two years after their first encounter with our program, Anina and Shae both self-selected and co-led their first 5eHERUBiz “How to Develop Group Principles” workshop at the 15th annual Allied Media Conference. Anina was also appointed to become a member of the Detroit Youth Food Justice Task force, and most recently represented them and 5eHERUBiz as a youth facilitator during the Jimmy & Grace Lee Boggs Center’s Detroit2013 conference (June 23 -30th).
The point of this illustration is to highlight both our value and identification with fostering authentic conversations that start at a point of shared personal self-interest and then growing with young people towards deeper social connection with their own local communities.  We hope that in addressing local issues that we share with other communities on a national and global scale, young people will want to participate and lead these evolutionary conversations into the future. 

In May 2012, then 19-year-old aspiring emcee and 5eHERU biz program participant King Kold approached me informally at a non-program social event with an aspiration to do a full-length recording project. He was speaking with great emotional excitement about the new opportunities this project would create for paid live-performances and music sales and most importantly recognition amongst his peers as a mature, non-youth hip hop artist. This was him establishing his purpose for initiating this project. Our shared purpose was the continued development of young people in leadership and economic empowerment capacities. For King, this project was intended to establish his identity as an “adult” to everyone in his community within earshot. In what way he would go about establishing this new adult identity- through lyrics, his behavior, and actions, he was less clear. Again, I emphasize that King approached me ‘informally’ to uplift my ideal of maintaining the awareness, as facilitators [co-producers], to use each media-based conversation our young people initiate, as an opportunity to engage them in a professional skills-developing and positive self-identity affirming context. In this case, King’s initiative looks like him proactively starting the conversation, thus qualifying as self-led. To move his conversation forward, and begin an opportunity for self-led development and ownership, my response to King was “…schedule a formal meeting with AEeTech Edutainment (my record producer identity) to have ‘this’ conversation, because this type of conversation is a ‘record production x artist conversation’- not a ‘Bryce x Shae’ kick-it’ convo.  To do this FOR-REAL, you have to approach the producer formally and set up a meeting to investigate the potential of YOUR project.” This moment, for King, signifies his first opportunity to choose to participate in his own professional development and project creation. This opportunity also reaffirms for King his true ownership [equity] in this project, for it will not move forward without him behaving in specific ways. This moment for me, signifies my first acts of commitment to participate in King’s development, thus establishing the foundation of our shared purpose.

Concluding Reflections

My media literacy work is self-identity work. This means that our young people must first be guided in realizing the existing points of positive value they already have for themselves. The only way we, as teachers, can truly serve our young people in making these key connections is by starting these conversations with them, with full orientation and intention on learning their personal agenda and uplifting their positive points of value along the way.
At the same time, we must be ever-unpacking our own self-interests and points-of-identity. This allows for us to be present in our own aesthetics and perspectives, and wield these tools to help the young people build their ideal developed-self. The converse of this is a teacher unknowingly projecting their own self-identity onto their young people, whereby unreasonable and false expectations begin to formulate. These expectations manifest as teachers negatively judging young people for not meeting their own adult standards of progress. The error is measuring young people based on any measure of value other than their own. The young people’s experiences must be the barometer by which we measure their development, not the teacher’s life history or measures of success. This point will help us deal with the perceived “checking-out” or loss of interest that we may observe in our young from time to time.
“Self is the beginning of community”; the classroom is your local community. In community-building social justice work- we start with identifying the unique skills and genii of the individual members, then co-create systems and solutions that leverage each member’s unique identities towards advancing the interconnected goals. 

 Digital Is Resource Link: Hip Hop Literacy X Entertainment Justice = Young Digital Economies