From the styles we wear and the words we use, hip-hop culture affects our communities, our kids and our lives. For better or for worse, it is here to stay.
That was the message at the second annual Northwest Hip-Hop Leadership Conference, Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Seattle Vocational Institute.
Organizers planned to address issues around gender and sexism, the use of the N-word and violence. On the other side, the economics and opportunities of hip-hop were also on the table, as well as the involvement of some artists in social issues like voting, education and health care.
"What we try to do is make sure we have a wide, broad, comprehensive look at hip-hop," said Eddie Moore Jr., one of the founders of the conference. Moore, diversity director at The Bush School, and the idea for the conference sprang out of his office.
"We are literally putting hip-hop on trial, through this year's theme," Moore said. "Our goal is to give participants a chance to see both the positives and what may be some of the negative aspects of hip-hop music, hip-hop culture."
The conference is a part of the Diversity Speaker Series, which is put on through the Bush School as a way to "invite conversation and action … that is more inclusive, supportive, and welcoming of all members," according to The Bush School's Web site.
"One of the real objectives, too, in addition to really hearing both sides of hip-hop – we just want to get people talking about it," said Moore. "We're having these conversations in a diverse and vibrant, community-related atmosphere. … I think it's good for me to hear from you that this is how you see it and vice versa, and we still leave in fellowship and friendship and relationship. That's what it's about."
Leila Steinberg, keynote speaker at the conference, is an artist and community organizer who began working with youth 20 years ago in San Francisco. When she started a workshop in Northern California to train voices that might be powerful enough to affect a generation, she met Tupac Shakur, who became a regular in her classes. Together they shared a dream to address social issues in their work.
Tupac has since passed away and left a legacy in the hip-hop industry. Steinberg continues to share the dream through artist workshops – she held one of these workshops, called "Microphone Sessions," the day after the conference in Seattle.
The workshop is Steinberg's branch of Alternative Intervention Models, an organization that hopes to enrich the lives of at-risk youths through the arts. More information can be found at http://www.hearteducation.org.
Moore speaks very highly of Steinberg and other speakers. "This is an event being done at no charge to the public, so we welcome folks to come out and really to some learning and contributing around this topic that continues to be a part of all our lives, no matter what generation we're from, and will continue to be a part of future generations."