Philadelphia Tribune

‘Hip-hop forum’ looks at identity politics

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.