Hip-hop is a global cultural phenomenon that continues to evolve in many different music and art forms, languages, dialects, and creative formats throughout the world. As we look back over the last 30 years or more, it is important to understand that hip-hop continues to help shape the consciousness and aspirational values of hundreds of millions of young people. In fact, I would strongly posit that hip-hop as a transcendent and transformative cultural force has helped to irreversibly change the world into a better place.
Young people today in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and yes here in North America are less patient with poverty, injustice and the status quo. They want change not only in their poetry and lyrics, but also young people yearn and cry out for a better quality of life now in their lifetime. They are demanding change, and young people today are making change a socioeconomic and political reality. Just two years ago, it was here in the United States that young voters made the critical difference in the outcome of the election of President Barack H. Obama. No one should ever ignore or forget the fact that it was the unprecedented youth voter turnout in 2008 in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and in Ohio as well as in the other "swing states" that helped to bring current "political change" to America. Millions of young voters registered and went to the polls for the first or second time in their lives.
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). For three days, June 12-14, 2001, inside the New York City Hilton, hip-hop artists from every region of the nation, managers, promoters, recording industry executives, media publishers, civil rights and community leaders, grassroots activists, academic and spiritual leaders, and members of the U.S. Congress all gathered together to participate in the pivotal and historic summit meeting under the theme of "Taking back responsibility."
As a result of the success of the summit, Russell Simmons and I co-founded the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network to harness the cultural relevance of hip-hop music to serve as a catalyst for education advocacy and other socioeconomic and political concerns fundamental to the empowerment of youth. In other words, HSAN was founded to carry out and to fulfill the commitments made at the 2001 summit and to organize and mobilize the growing hip-hop constituency to be agents and leaders for fundamental change in our communities across America. It has been a decade of unstoppable struggle and progress. From 2001 to 2010, HSAN has sponsored more than 75 Hip-Hop Summits in cities in the states of New York, California, Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Mississippi. We also convened Hip-Hop Summits in Toronto, Canada; Kinston, Jamaica; and in Johannesburg, South Africa. HSAN continues to be a non-profit, non-partisan international coalition of hip-hop artists, entertainment industry leaders, education advocates, civil and human rights proponents, and youth leaders united in the belief that hip-hop is an enormously influential agent for social change which must be responsibly and proactively utilized to fight the war on poverty and injustice.
From Jay Z to Eminem, from Naz to Erykah-Badu, from Beyonce to Master P, from Snoop Dog to Busta Rhymes, from Will Smith to Kanye West, from Dougie Fresh to Foxy Brown, from Jim Jones to Julez Santana, from Chris Brown to Fat Joe, from Tego Calderon to Don Omar, and from Missy Elliot to TI along with more than 300 other artists all of whom gave of their time, energy, money and support to help HSAN make a positive difference. Whether it was "Get Your Vote Right" to "Get Your Money Right" to "Get Your House Right," or successfully challenging the repressive Rockefeller Drug Laws or rallying to restore $300 million to the NYC public school budget, the hip-hop community always rose to the agenda with direct action and support.
But the best way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Hip-Hop Summit Network is to continue to raise more awareness and involvement of young people in every state in the U.S. and in every nation in the global community to demand more "progressive" change. There are strong winds of repression now blowing from those who want to deny the future advancement of humanity. 2012 is fast approaching in the United States and the Tea Party is gearing up to take America backward. HSAN along with the Hip-Hop Caucus and other organizations will have to mobilize once again. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Republican National Committee should both be challenged to ensure a large youth voter turnout in 2012. If we have learned anything during the past 10 years, it is that all of us should be willing to give more and do more to insure freedom, justice, equality, and empowerment for all.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is Senior Advisor for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation.