Thursday, August 8, 2013

Who Dropped the Ball and Who's Building the Bridge?

It is with great emotion that I put fingers to keys today. I haven't posted a blog in over a year. Oftentimes I was tempted; heck I started quite a few drafts. I contemplated going to a different format and even created an unpublished blog space on a different platform. Yet nothing moved me enough to speak. Sure the occasional Mass Media covered issues spurned me to type a few witty soundbites on Social Networking, but it was a "meow" at best.

But the sleeping lion awoke in my spirit when icons Harry Belafonte and Jay-Z became center stage in a dialogue that technically had not occurred. "Music and Responsibility" became the topic of discussion and words shot from mouths like an AK-47 spray. Phrases like: "Down with Jay-Z" "Hip Hop does not care", "Respect your elders", "Old dude ain't had a song in decades. What does he know?" and "He's so irrelevant; he never made half as much money as Hov". I bided my time sifting through countless articles, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Instagram memes and passionate in-person conversations. I vaguely remember saying, "Someone dropped the ball!" I do not think people related to my scant sentences on the subject.

How could I tell people without judgment that I loved and respected both Mr. Belafonte and Mr. Carter? Would I be viewed as less of a community activist or Christian if I said I owned every Jay-Z album? Could a 30-something year old woman be...a dichotomy like so many of her favorite artists? The reasons why I love and dare I say others have loved Marvin Gaye or Al Green is the same reason people love Tupac Shakur and Jay Cole. There is a duality of passions, discoveries and longing in humans. I am not referencing spirit versus man so much as the struggle to become our best selves.

When I think about the time in which I was raised, social activism had a way of cloaking itself. Civil Rights Leaders were not as steadfast and believable as they were in the 60's and 70's. MTV took shape forming awesome alliances like Run-DMC's revamp collaboration of Aerosmith's Walk This Way, solidifying the crossover power of music that inspired a generation. In fact some of my favorite TV moments were In Living Color skits on these icons. Activists had become almost irrelevant or puppet-like public negotiators at best. That mockery solidified the great divide of disconnect between generations.

While perusing the Internet I came across a 2-part video dialogue that made me feel right at home. If you have a minute, check out Bakari Kitwana and Mark Anthony Neal's discussion here: Moving Beyond Jay-Z and Harry Belafonte. Kitwana and Neal held an educated yet candid dialogue about the topic. It could have been because of my local NAACP Exec. Board Membership or the fact that I graduated from the first voluntarily integrated school system in America. Whatever the reason, my ears perked up at the reminder of the funding history of movements and the various roles of the supporters. But, when Rev. Calvin Butts and C. Delores Tucker were mentioned for their roles in the so-called "War Against Hip Hop", I knew I had come to right place.

I will never forget as a teen, watching Rev. Butts steamroll over Rap Music Compact Discs, Cassette tapes and VHS tapes in a well-publicized TV campaign. And Tupac's lyrics in "Don't Stop" regarding the back and forth feud with C. Delores Tucker, who went as far as to buy stock in record companies to protest profanity in Rap Music at shareholders meetings. C. Delores Tucker's War Against Rap was as real as any public feud could get. She waged war financially and politically. Yes, Kitwana and Neal were right. The Mainstream Hip Hop World had a reason to be leery of spokespeople and community activists. In the past, they mixed as well as oil and water.

Fast-forward to the topic at hand, the so-called "beef" between Harry Belafonte and Jay-Z. It is only fitting to take a short moment to introduce and/or reintroduce these iconic public figures in the context of their time. Be careful, you are liable to find more similarities than differences.

Harry Belafonte is an icon, American singer, songwriter, actor and social activist, so respected that I often place "Mr." in front of his name as a sign of respect. A quick Wikipedia search reveals Belafonte's far-reaching brand. Belafonte's 1956, Calypso, a (Mento-Jamaican Folk Music) release, was the first album to sell a million copies. A trailblazer, his global view introduced mainstream America to South African singer Miriam Makeba and Greek Singer Nana Mouskouri. In 1962, his album Midnight Special contained the first recorded feature of Bob Dylan. Paul Robeson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were both good friends of Belafonte who greatly influenced his thinking. From issues like Poverty, to Apartheid, to Gang Violence, Belafonte used his celebrity to change hearts and minds. Eighty-six year old Belafonte is known as a Civil Rights, Political and Humanitarian activist who continues his involvement in many global, social and civil causes.

Sean "Jay-Z" Carter is an internationally known American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur and investor. According to Wikipedia, "In 2012, Forbes estimated Carter's net worth at nearly $500 million. He has sold approximately 50 million albums worldwide, while receiving 17 Grammy Awards for his musical work, and numerous additional nominations." An MTV documentary, Diary of Jay-Z: Water for Life, chronicled a movement to help raise awareness of water shortages due to combat in Africa. It was the realization of a conversation between Jay-Z and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Jay-Z participated in "Head Count" a movement organizing and engaging young people to register and vote. "Along with Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jay-Z pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross' relief effort after Hurricane Katrina. Jay-Z appeared with Russell Simmons in a PSA combating racism and anti-Semitism that organized by the the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding." Partnering with other celebrities for causes has become Jay-Z's new platform to spark the interest of a new generation.

The so-called "beef" between Harry Belafonte and Jay-Z began one year ago. Belafonte was attending a conference in Paris. He used Jay-Z and Jay-Z's wife, Beyonce (a music icon in her own right) as a reference of celebrities not doing enough for society: "High-profile artists, powerful celebrities... have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black," said Belafonte.

Jay-Z then fired back with a line on "Nickels and Dimes", a track from his latest release, Magna Carter Holy Grail:
I’m just trying to find common ground
‘fore Mr. Belafonte come and chop a n_____ down
Mr. Day-O, major fail
Respect these youngins boy, it’s my time now
Hublot homie, two door homie
You don’t know all the sh!t I do for the homies

When asked about the "beef", Jay-Z made a statement that lit social media and critics on fire:
JAY-Z: Well, I'm offended by that, because, first of all - and this is going to sound arrogant - but my presence is charity, just who I am, just like Obama's is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation and outside of America is enough.

Guess what? Belafonte was right. "To whom much is given, much is required." There is such a richness of history and international social concern in Belafonte. That wisdom needs to be shared with the Carter Family and many other entertainers. However, Jay-Z is not too far from the mark either. The presence of a celebrity brings instant media coverage and sometimes credibility to a cause. Let's also take into account the friendship between Jay-Z and President Barack Obama. Yes, it is not a figment of "The Left's"imagination; Jay-Z introduced POTUS at a rally. Beyonce sang the First Dance at the 2009 Inaugural Ball, the National Anthem at the 2013 Inauguration and First Lady Michelle Obama and First Daughters Sasha and Malia attended a July 2013 Beyonce Concert in Chicago.

Here's a "Did You Know" Moment inspired by Kitwana and Neal's videos.

1. Belafonte campaigned for then Senator John F. Kennedy on the platform of Civil Rights issues, Global Issues and the Economy. In 1960 Harry Belafonte Campaigned for Senator Jack Kennedy. Belafonte was later recruited by Frank Sinatra to perform at President John F. Kennedy's inaugural gala. He also had subsequent interaction with elected President John H. Kennedy.

2. President Barack Obama compared his upbringing to that of Jay-Z's showing mutual respect and friendship. "Every time I talk to Jay-Z, who is a brilliant talent and a good guy, I enjoy how he thinks. That's somebody who is going to start branching out and can help shape attitudes in a real positive way," said President Obama.

3. Paul Robeson brought Harry Belafonte, (a hands-on style activist) into the Civil Rights Movement. Belafonte brought in Sidney Poitier who was more of a check-writer, visibility figure, who approached issues from an Arts view. (Sound familiar yet?) Even the Black Panther Party received funding from Leonard Bernstein. The Harlem Renaissance Movement had Casper Holstein. Every person gave what worked best for them. The organizers, spokespeople, financial backers and workers often were not the same people. I digress. *sigh


Belafonte: I would like to take this opportunity to say to Jay-Z and to Beyonce  I'm wide open. My heart is filled with nothing but hope, and then in the promise that we could sit and have a one-on-one. And let's understand each other rather than trying to answer these questions and answer these nuances in a public place. (soundbite from, All in with Chris Hayes)

Guess what? I love this idea! A meeting of the intergenerational minds, bridge building, knowledge sharing, future collaboration conversation.

I think The WILD Foundation said it best. "Intergenerational collaboration describes a dynamic working relationship that emphasizes collaboration to build on the strengths and capacities of people of different ages and generations working together toward common goals...intergenerational means not just passing the torch but really engaging with those in different generations—making decisions together and planning in a way that is meaningful to all. We find that this core value distinguishes our work and our approach and leads to creative and meaningful results!"

I pledge to be a Bridge Builder. I will receive and impart knowledge. I will exercise patience with youth and elders. I will respect myself and recognize my duality. I will continue to recognize that first impressions are hard to clean up. I will listen more. I will pray often. Giving up on my community is not an option. Neglecting my love of music is not going to happen. I will brainstorm ways to mobilize people behind causes, but I will leave with action items to complete. I will ask the tough questions. I will honor my individuality. I will not second-guess the signs. I will see with Spiritual Eyes. I will shine my light because I am made whole by The Light of the World. I will walk on the proverbial moon because it is my job to lay the path as much as it is to walk it.

What will you do?