At Humanities Amped in 2021, we are celebrating the first of our three core values: beloved community. As we look toward the future and its challenges, this aspect of our organizational vision, to nurture a dynamic, beloved community of lifelong learners and civic leaders, has never felt more essential to our individual and collective well-being. Over the next few months, we will release a series of think pieces reflecting on the theme of beloved community and how it shows up in our work at Humanities Amped. Click here to learn more about the heart of beloved community and why it matters so deeply to us.
My first performance in front of a huge crowd was February 1998 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where I performed at the city's Black History program. I was oh so nervous, but I sucked it up and laid out a flawless performance. My anxiety was so high that when I finished and the crowd gave me a standing ovation, I walked as fast as I could to my dad’s van and cried my eyes out. As a touring hip-hop artist I’ve performed in front of thousands, but never have I been as nervous as I was that day. I’m comfortable being in front of crowds because I was taught how to “speak” by The Fox.
When I was in 6th grade, she told me when I got to 7th grade I was gonna be in her class. When I got to 7th grade she pulled me from my English class, and enrolled me in an elective class called Pro-Team. I’m not exactly sure what the curriculum was for Pro-Team, nor how it was so important I didn’t have to take 7th grade English, but I know she taught me how to do speeches, and I got so good she entered me in speech & oratorical contests all across the state of Oklahoma. I had memorized “God’s Trombone” by James Weldon Johnson, and I was killing it.
The Fox was/is old school though. I was a church boy, a son of a gospel musician. I was supposed to be at choir practice, practicing my tenor harmonies for the African American Youth Achievers choir. I was in the 11th grade (I think), starting to act out due to family trauma that I didn’t know how to describe or communicate until I myself was a youth worker and parent well into my 30’s. Me & a few other homies, whom I won’t name, were on the corner doing Lord knows what, with who knows what tucked in the small pocket of some jeans that were probably Fubu. We was “outchea,” as the kids say.
Next thing I know, a car swoops up on the curb and a figure about 5’9, 5’11 with heels, hops the Nissan and charges towards us. 2 of the 3 boys were in the choir, one was not. The dude who was not got ghost on us, leaving us frozen until we were apprehended and thrown in the back of the Nissan, and summarily cursed out. I was just praying that my dad would not be called, and my guy just wanted the chastisement to end. Instead, the Nissan pulled up to the church house, and we were again cursed out in the most lovingly way possible. After receiving the most endearing rebuke ever, we were made to go sing our parts like nothing ever happened. Luckily for me, my father never knew about it, nor were my friend and I patted down. I’m not gonna say who had what, but let's just say I’ve never tried to sing with perfect pitch more than I did this night.
Now that I’m grown, I look at all the things the people who love and care about me did to make me a better person, and I also work hard to fill in the gaps they may have overlooked while doing their version of the Lord’s work. That’s why I do what I do, that’s why I do it how I do it.
As an adult, I will never not be that same kid from a small town where a lot of people do not get to leave. A kid through the benevolence of The Most High, my ancestors, my loved ones, grew to be a college graduate who travels the country spittin’ Pan-African conscious hip-hop for gang members. The pandemic took away touring, so I’m now functioning as a Hip-Hop educator who teaches an elective middle school class with Humanities Amped that intersects hip-hop culture with social justice themes. I too will pull up on some youth brothers on the corner who may or may not be doing Lord knows what, the difference is I will meet them there, and ask them how they are doing. If the rapport is there, I’ll ask them why they are on this corner, and what I can do to help them get off it.
There’s a rapper named Li’l Baby from Atlanta, GA, known mostly for his autotuned melodic raps about hustling, flossing, and all types of street stories. In the summer of 2020 after Rayshard Brooks was murdered by Atlanta PD there were several protests, some even turned to riots where buildings were vandalized. Baby was so moved by the events that he left his million dollar mansion in the suburbs of Atlanta and started attending the marches & protests. This was the inspiration for his now Grammy nominated song “The Bigger Picture.”
When I say Hip-Hop, I’m not talking about simply rapping or beats. I’m speaking to the way people think, interact, & express themselves. We can be hip-hop without ever mumbling a rap lyric or tapping our toes to the beat. In our #FreeHipHop class, our beloved community has created a space where we can be us, free of judgement & limitations. We listen, we learn, we love. We praise successes, and support when there’s tragedy. We meet each other where we are. In our beloved community, we put our culture over everything.