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By Donovan M. Smith | The Skanner News
Published: 14 January 2016

Donovan M. Smith

Of The Skanner News

Year after year, the Portland Youth Summit has taught young people life skills using hip hop.

The two-day summit, which started in 2007, takes place Feb. 12 and Feb. 13 at the Blazers’ Boys and Girls Club this year. It is free and open to the public.

Thefirst night, the summit in collaboration with Black Parent Initiative, will explore healthy approaches to raising children. It will feature a performance by award-winning spoken word artist and poet S. Renee Mitchell. The second night of the summit will feature an array of workshops aimed at youth and adults alike on topics ranging from becoming an emcee to healthy living. There will also be a youth talent showcase.

Event founder Imani Muhammad said by structuring the event around five major aspects of hip-hop culture -- emceeing, graffiti, DJing, b-boying, and graffiti-writing -- she is able to equip young people with life skills in a way she may not be able to using more conventional methods.

 “We might address how a young person can be an emcee, and teach them how to write lyrics -- but at the same time, we’re going to give them the knowledge of why you need to know how to write and put thoughts to paper,” Muhammad said. “It’s taking them where they’re at in terms of the music. But then once we have them hooked in, then we can unlock a lot of their minds and give them some real knowledge that they may not be getting in the public school situation or at home.”

Other presenters for this year’s summit will include rapper and social entrepreneur Mic Crenshaw, journalist Jesse Muhammad, teacher Sebastien Elkouby and Devin S. James, author of the book Inside Ferguson.

Muhammad said watching the summit enter its 10th year is an accomplishment.

She started the event in response to the shooting death of one of her former pupils, 14-year-old Davonte Lightfoot, who was shot at the intersection of North Killingsworth and Albina in 2007. The first Youth Summit took place a few weeks later.

In the years since, the summit has brought out big names like Professor Griff of the legendary rap group Public Enemy, and popular hip hop activist Jasiri X.

 “Davonte is one name,” Muhammad said. “We can run the names down in our city, but [also] of course nationally, of young men and women who have been in killed, in — I wouldn’t call it senseless violence, because there is a reason behind it -- but I would call it foolishness. “

She said through the years, the type of violence affecting youth has changed from organized crime to becoming more random. But root is largely the same: disenfranchisement.

“It’s just lack of opportunity for those that aren’t part of the ‘haves’. We have a huge divide of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in the city so if you’re hustling day-to-day trying to make it, and you’re not able to make it, then you’re naturally going to resort to some criminal or dysfunctional activity,” Muhammad said.  “So I think a lot of what we’re seeing today is that the young people don’t have hope, and they also don’t have any guidance or direction.”

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