Author discusses hip-hop's cultural impact at BSU Soul Food Dinner

Though the Geneseo campus was noticably depopulated for the holiday weekend, the Black Student Union's (BSU) Annual Soul Food Dinner drew a respectable crowd to the Union Ballroom on Saturday night, appealing to everyone seeking a delicious homemade meal and an interesting, enlightening discussion.

Guests were treated to an array of foods such as baked barbeque chicken, macaroni and cheese and collared greens. The focus of the evening, however, was speaker Bakari Kitwana, former editor of The Source magazine and author of several books on hip-hop's cultural influence.

In the past, BSU has often performed a show after the dinner, but this year they chose to do something different. "Instead of putting on a show for the eyes, we wanted to put on a show for the mind," explained BSU President Odelia Nalia Lewis, a sophomore, when introducing Kitwana. The organization sought to expose students to a new perspective while incorporating a medium that, at some point or another, all have been exposed to - popular music.

Kitwana's speech centered on hip-hop's "transitioning from a cultural movement to a political power," and discussed activism that grew out of the musical genre. Throughout his career, he has tried to bring attention to the political importance of hip-hop. As executive editor of The Source magazine, Kitwana tried to fuse more politics into the magazine, featuring articles on activists and political prisoners.

As the "hip-hop generation," a label Kitwana used for "young people of color who were the first to grow up after the Civil Right movement," comes of age, they are faced with several problems, such as sharp increases in college tuition and the loss of jobs to a more global economy. Kitwana noted disparities in America, most notably the difference in wealth among races, saying that "the average black person's net worth is around $6,000. The average white person's net worth is around $88,000."

According to Kitwana, hip-hop could incite political involvement in young people. "Hip-hop is more than just words," said Kitwana. "We can use its influence to create change." One such manifestation of this idea was the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, which Kitwana co-founded. He believes that hip-hop is an ideal way for those who feel underrepresented by the constraints of the two-party system to express issues that are pertinent to them. Kitwana also mentioned a program he started called "Rap Sessions," in which issues such as the representation of women and the presence of homophobia in hip-hop are discussed across the country.

National hip-hop campaigns have had a large impact, such as P. Diddy's famous "Vote or Die" program, which helped bring a record number of young voters to the polls in 2004. Kitwana noted the emergence of a political agenda for the hip-hop generation, which focused on issues such as a higher minimum wage, national health care and affordable education. Kitwana hopes to spread these messages through organizations as well as hip-hop artists.

Though he has faith that hip-hop can make a difference in the political nature of this country, Kitwana acknowledges there has been some difficulty making people aware. The lack of publicized activism, according to Kitwana, was in part the fault of today's omnipresent celebrity culture. Many efforts go unnoticed unless there is a celebrity name attached to a cause. "There actually has been a rise in activists making significant changes recently," he remarked. "But there isn't a political movement until Russell Simmons decides there is one!"

All in attendance at BSU's Soul Food Dinner gained a difference perspective on the cultual relevance of hip-hop. Kitwana's passion for the subject made for an eye-opening lecture on the political system of the country and the influence that young adults can have to make a positive change.