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Hip-Hop Generation Debated at "State of Black Union" Conference

Credit: C-SPAN
C-SPAN televised the day-long the "State of the Black Union" conference.

The image and behavior of black youth became a prime topic for discussion as more than 8,000 guests assembled at Hampton University for activist broadcaster Tavis Smiley’s eighth annual “State of the Black Union” symposium.

Keying in on this year's theme, "Jamestown - America's 400th Anniversary: The African American Imprint on America," the Rev. Al Sharpton said black youths have lost the dignity that the blacks brought in 1607 to nearby Jamestown, Va., possessed.

“The image of the black man today is that of a young, violent, black buck,” added Tim Reid, an actor, director and producer who shared a panel with Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, at the Feb. 10 event. “We have to use the power of propaganda more effectively.”

Speakers challenged the new generation of blacks to understand and appreciate their history.

If black youth "knew that they came from greatness, they wouldn’t be so inclined to misbehave,” said Glenda Hatchett, the judge, television host and author. “You need to understand that we come from a rich past.”

Panelists not only challenged black youth to act responsibly; they applauded them.

Cathy Hughes, founder and chairwoman of Radio One, Inc., commended the hip-hop generation for its revolutionary approach to reaching masses of the black population through music. The hip-hop stations on Radio One, she said, are very successful compared with other news/talk programs.

“Unity is the greatest challenge to the status quo,” said Hughes. “And there is more unity in the hip-hop generation than in my generation or in any other generation.”

Some students at Hampton University have different views on their so-called hip-hop generation.

“The hip-hop generation goes hard for Black History Month, but the older generations did a lot more,” said Alyse Howard, a junior at the historically black university. “In the past five years, we’ve seen P. Diddy’s ‘Vote or Die’ campaign, but that’s nothing compared to what was done in the 1960s and 1970s.”

“They were united with a cause,” freshman Ashley Wynn said, referring to the older generations of blacks. “They fought for what we have, and now we don’t feel like we have to keep anything going.”

Formal education was another topic of concern for the speakers.

Daphne Reid, an actor who co-founded New Millennium Studios with husband Tim Reid, said that her priority was for school curriculum to be properly written.

Tim Reid stressed education as the most important tool for today’s youth. “Education works,” he said. “Not everyone can be a hip-hop artist.”

While most of the panel’s closing remarks were well-received, that was not universal.

Speaking of Tim Reid's comment, Howard, an aspiring hip-hop producer, said, “I was offended by that generalization. Education and hip hop are not opposites.”

Hatchett’s final comments brought the discussion to a close. “New generations must define their own history,” she said, “but it must be in the context of this history.”

Aariel Charbonnet is a student at Hampton University's Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. To comment, e-mail [email protected]

Posted Feb. 12, 2007

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