Bakari Kitwana kicked off Martin Luther King Jr. week events at Grand Valley with a speech Monday that drew connections between activists from the civil rights era and activists from the hip-hop era.
Kitwana’s latest book is Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era. He is a senior media fellow at the Jamestown Project, a Harvard Law think-tank, and CEO of Rap Sessions, a company that conducts townhall meetings around the country on difficult topics facing the hip-hop generation.
Kitwana told an audience in the Kirkhof Center that hip-hop music emerged from generations of artists who sought ways to convey their political messages.
“In the 1970s, hip-hop’s political message was found in songs about how globalization had impacted urban communities,” Kitwana said.
He continued describing the decades and said by the 1990s established artists like Public Enemy and Queen Latifah were using music as tools to mobilize young people to activism.
Kitwana said the 2008 election of President Obama was the first political victory for young people. He projected that the political apathy and unrest that followed years later occurred because the young voters who helped elect Obama into office stopped being political activists, although there is a resurgence in activism with Occupy Wall Street.
“The issues surrounding Occupy Wall Street have been channeled by young people and brought them back into activism,” he said.
He suggested to students in the audience that they do not need to wait for an invitation to be an activist. “Just jump in,” Kitwana said. “To be inspiring to others, the most important thing is to be engaged yourself.”
* Kitwana said there was a surge of political messages in music in the 1970s (audio).
* Kitwana said the term raptivist described hip-hop performers who were also activists (audio).
* Kitwana said by 2004 hip-hop was used to mobilize young people (audio).
* Kitwana said the election of Obama was considered the first real victory but then people were discouraged (audio).
MLK Commemoration Week events continue through Saturday; see details below.
• Tuesday, January 17:
1 p.m.: Melanie Shell-Weiss, assistant professor of liberal studies, will discuss “Race, Migration and Social Justice: What Would MLK Say Today?” in the Kirkhof Center, Pere Marquette Room.
• Wednesday, January 18:
5 p.m.: Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate and author of The New Jim Crow, presentation in Kirkhof Center, Grand River Room. This program will be simulcast to the DeVos Center for an audience in Loosemore Auditorium.
• Thursday, January 19:
10 a.m.: Michelle Alexander will discuss her book in the Cook-DeWitt Center.
• Saturday, January 21:
9 a.m.: “Day of Service” when students, faculty and staff members will volunteer within the community in honor of King and civil rights activist Gloria Richardson. About 100 people will gather in the Kirkhof Center before heading to the Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank and other locations.
For more information about King events, visit www.gvsu.edu/mlk. Contact the Office of Multicultural Affairs at (616) 331-2177 with questions.