Hip-Hop, Social Justice, and Belonging

Erica Browne

Erica Browne

Graduate Student Researcher

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ericka Huggins and Davey D

Dozens of students, organizers, artists, and hip-hop aficionados gathered for a dialogue with former Black Panther Ericka Huggins and DJ Davey D to celebrate hip-hop, social justice, and the power of belonging at a Haas Institute-organized event at the Oakland Museum on June 21.

The gathering was a part of a week-long seminar organized for the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE) who were on the UC Berkeley campus last month for a series of talks and meetings with leading thinkers, training exercises, and other activities.

The June 21 event was intended to inspire the fellows and other attendees to consider spiritual practice and creative expression in social justice work to restore our spirits and demonstrate love while building equitable and inclusive communities.

The conversation looked at the intersections of neurological research, hip-hop and understanding the effects of music and creative expression on the brain; others questioned the significance of hip-hop culture—music, rhyming, dance, and visual expression—as an alternative communication medium that picks up and expresses both substance and form in a way that research is unable to do.

Huggins, a human rights activist, poet, educator, Black Panther leader, and former political prisoner, set the tone with an invocation on the importance of spiritual practice in social justice work, and an important reminder of the interconnection of struggle and healing—the ways that we are all connected to and can actively contribute to minimizing the suffering experienced by the children, mothers, fathers, and families detained along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Her 37 years of lecturing in the United States and internationally, and her extraordinary life experiences enabled her to speak personally and eloquently on the role of spiritual practice in sustaining activism and promoting social change.

She encouraged attendees to “send whatever you have in your good heart or good mind. Send it here. Send your love, do it. Now bring some of that kindness and compassion back to yourself. Receive your own goodness.”

Legendary hip-hop journalist, DJ, and radio host Davey D provided a personal history of hip-hop culture and its significance in bridging cultures, building movements, and sustaining communities. His work as a contributing curator to "RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom" was on exhibit at the museum, providing the backdrop for the evening conversation. 

Hip-hop is an art form paradoxically borne out of a simultaneous dearth and abundance of resources. Much like other forms of music, it has provided the soundtrack for a rebellion against the conventional and mainstream, while drawing inspiration from the past.

Despite its commodification and frequent appropriation, it persists, authentically, as an expression of triumph, creativity, and self-actualization for marginalized people and communities all over the world. Davey D reminded the audience of the power and ubiquity of hip-hop culture outside of the U.S., and the isolation and ignorance that inhibits many Americans from being able to name hip-hop artists from other countries.

The evening was both an homage and harbinger to the power of hip-hop to transform—how we see ourselves, our environment, and the future—and the necessity of nurturing this precious culture so that it's transformative healing power can take effect at the critical time that is now.

In a way, hip-hop, and a spiritual practice rooted in empathy and love, are tools that enable us to bridge across differences and to build communities where a sense of belonging is felt and achieved. The gathering provided an important opportunity to build relationships, and bridging ideas and understanding, particularly as they relate to the transformative power of hip-hop culture.