Art Sanctuary collaborated with Rap Sessions to host “Rebirth of a Nation: Race and Gender Politics in Today’s Media,” in a town hall setting at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia recently.
Rap Sessions, founded in 2005 by Bakari Kitwana, is an organization that hosts national tours of town hall meetings with hip-hop activists and scholars engaging in dialogues involving the hip-hop generation.
Last Wednesday evening’s event brought community members in Philadelphia together to share their thoughts on the influence of hip-hop and politics.
Kitwana is a journalist, activist and author whose commentary has appeared on CNN, FOX News and other media outlets. He felt the community setting at the Church of the Advocate served as an appropriate place for an interactive discussion.
“The conversation was amazing yesterday and with the grant we were able to get we were able to do something we don’t always get to do— have this conversation inside of a community center,” Kitwana said. “To take the conversation in the community was special.”
The event entailed a panel discussion with panelists: media personality Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Mark Anthony Neal, professor of Black popular culture at Duke University, Joan Morgan, journalist and hip-hop feminist author and Elizabeth Mendez Berry, culture critic and journalist. Akiba Solomon, journalist and author, moderated the panel.
After the panel discussion, the guests disbursed into smaller breakout group sessions in which panelists and local activists led the conversations into deeper discussions.
The panel and breakout sessions ranged in conversation covering gender and media, the correlation of the election of President Obama with the evolution of media images surrounding gender and race—and social media and its impact in activism.
Throughout the conversation, participants had opportunities to share their input with the panel and breakout groups. The Trayvon Martin case and a recent Burger King commercial with artist Mary J. Blige were also topics of discussion.
Following their visit to Philadelphia, Rap Sessions made a stop in New Orleans and will continue their 2012 tour “Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama/Tea Party Era”—the title of Kitwana’s latest book.
One of the key points Kitwana expressed at the event was his belief that there’s been a racial backlash that has heightened the conversation around race since the election of President Obama.
With an interactive crowd, the town hall-like meeting was successful in providing an outlet for the community to share their views. Kitwana plans to take Rap Sessions back to Philadelphia at the Art Sanctuary this upcoming fall. He believes Conversations like these are educational for both the panel and the participants.
“I think so often there are few key places in our society where people can get to have a regular conversation with people outside of their home—the folks really got into it,” he said.
Earlier this year, West Philadelphia native Akiba Solomon was named the managing editor of Colorlines.com.
Solomon, who has been an advocacy journalist since her high school days at Central, has written about the intersection between gender and race for Colorlines, The Root.com and culture for Ebony.com.
As Colorlines’ inaugural reporting fellow, Solomon reported on reproductive health access for women of color during and immediately after President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
“I think that ‘Colorlines’ is somewhere where you can grapple with that many nuances of journalism,” explained Solomon. “People call it intersectionality and it’s an idea that goes back to where all the women are not white and all of the men are not Black; or like when people say, ‘we need equity’ or ‘we need more women in the space,’ unless they explicitly say they need that it includes women of color — not just one or two — but that the idea that women of color are in the DNA of the intersectionality that you are doing, then for the most part people generally when they say ‘more women’ it really means that a lot of times it’s going to be a large group of white women. And, this is not about being divisive; it is about the idea that the power structure is in place based on the history of this country, and that we cannot have conversation about diverse city without having a conversation about equity. Like, there is a difference between diversity and equity: Diversity is we throw a couple of (minorities) into the room, and now we are diverse. That does not produce equity. It can, maybe, alter a company’s culture on an individual level, and maybe some people will have jobs, but that is a very temporary and momentary solution because, again, it doesn’t change the structure. We really have to have a conversation about equity — and about its outcomes.”
The NABJ-Award winning journalist, editor and essayist is a graduate of Howard University, and co-edited “Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts” (Perigee, 2005), an anthology of original essays and oral memoirs about Black women and body image.
Solomon has also been a researcher for Glamour, a health editor for Essence and a senior editor for the print versions of Vibe Vixen and The Source.
Today, the Brooklyn resident credits her career to her 1990 participation in the Daily News’ Urban Journalism Workshop, a former two-week reporter’s boot camp for high school kids from diverse backgrounds.
“The people who did that program was (Daily News editor) Michael Days, (former Daily News reporter) Joseph Blake and several others who literally took a bunch of kids and put us through rigorous journalistic training and send us out into the world,” Solomon said. “It really gave us the tools and said — like, really said — you are a journalist and this is what you do and this is how you do journalist. I never would have thought at the time that I would be a journalist — I thought I was going to be a singer or a clothing designer — so to have somebody like a Blake or Days walking around with us raggedy kids and literally having us sit and talk to other journalists was empowering. I remember an article that I wrote and produced for the newspaper and we sat around the table and interviewed a judge and we were in high school. Now, we were all very serious and and days, Blake and the others involved took us serious, too. That kind of nurturing was really, really important because, especially now because there is really not a whole lot of journalistic training available anymore for people of color, and especially young people of color.”
Solomon has also written for a range of publications on a freelance basis, including Redbook, Vibe and Heart & Soul. As a panelist, she has spoken about women’s and social justice issues through the lens of hip-hop culture at a range of institutions including The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Stanford University, Yale University, Harvard University and The University of Chicago.
Today, Solomon continues to boldly speak out via her online journalism where she tackles the hot-button issues of the day. To discover, or catch up on, Akiba Solomon’s work, visit http://colorlines.com, or follow at @akibasolomon.