Hip Hop and Politics For the Youth

Posted May 13 2008

Recently, The Rap Sessions Tour came to Oakland Unity High School, in Oakland, CA. The panel has appeared at universities ranging from Harvard to Stanford and we were the first high school they addressed, which was pretty cool. The topic was Hip Hop and the 2008 Presidential Election. The participants tend to vary and for this one performer/activist M-1 of dead prez, political organizer Angela Woodson, professor Dr. Dawn-Elissa Fischer, activist Rosa Clemente, and performer Rico Pabon (whose wife, Ms. Ramos, works at our school) sat in on the discussion while author Bakari Kitwana moderated. The audience was predominately seniors, nearly all of whom were African American or Latino. Topic-wise, everything from sexism to voting was covered. After the panel discussion, a question and answer session took place, which included an impromptu performance by one of our students. Below are student reflections on the panel. The overwhelming response was positive and as a teacher I’m super glad that we were able to make this happen. In the teachers’ defense, as you read the feedback, some students made it sound like this was the first time they ever got to talk about sexism in pop culture or were given inspirational words. That’s certainly not the case, but as long as they responded to someone, it’s good! Hopefully we can do this again next year.

The panel today was one of the best ones I have been to. This panel surprisingly did not bore me at all, unlike all the other ones I have been to. I think this panel was so good because it was more of a town hall type on meeting rather than the type where only the panel member’s talk. Them incorporating us into the discussion was a big help. The panel members consisted of Angela Woodson, Rico Pabon, dead prez, Dawn-Elissa Fisher, Rosa Alicia Clemete, and Bakari Kitwana. They all were from different parts and gave opinions from different perspectives on hip hop/ political topics.

I would have to say that the most interesting people on the panel would have to be Rosa Alicia Clemete and Angela Woodson.  Rosa seemed to be the most relatable to me. I like her topic about all the white supremacy that is happening today through everything we do including trying to get an education while all the funds are being cut to necessary programs such as Sex Ed and Music departments. Rosa also explained her feelings, asking a question I have also wondered about, which was why can’t people who live on the island of Puerto Rico vote when they have U.S. citizenship. I personally don’t believe that she a racist against white people; it’s just her experiences and encounters with Caucasians that make her feel the way she that she does.

Angela Woodson stood out to me specifically because of when she kept emphasizing that she will always be a student. That to me meant that she has already established that she will always be willing to learn something knew from different perspectives. Angela was the one who seemed most interested in teens’ point of view on the topics discussed today. She talked about how hard it might be if Barack Obama became president. She said it may become difficult for Barack to stay true to everything he is saying now because he is only one man and it’s the congress and senates who will have to agree or partially agree with him for him to stay true to all his current stances, which I really agree with.

All the other panelist made great points like when Rico Pabon was talking about how the was the one who decided that he was going to stop the addictions that his last 3 generations had gone through, which come back to the point that its always up to you to change or break the cycle. One thing that I really enjoyed about this panel was they were not old white men. That was important to me because I don’t want to hear ‘bout my culture and my neighborhood and the things I have been through from no old white man who doesn’t have a clue about my culture or anything else that a young minority child have gone through. I would rather hear it from someone who looks like me and been through and is still going through some of things that I go through on an everyday basis.

The best thing about the panel, besides the fact that they were minorities, was that there were minority women that understood the things that young women go through, because especially in Oakland. Girl’s experiences are way different from the male’s experiences. Like women constantly getting called out of there names and getting verbally harassed on daily basis, whereas males don’t really go through that as much a girls, which was also discussed on today’s panel. Today’s panel really showed me that I really should think about things before I just say them because I don’t want to be seem as the ignorant black girl that doesn’t know nothing. All the other members had excellent points that where discussed today which where also important. They should really be thanked for taking time out there schedule and having this panel for the first time at a high school because it was not only informal but it was also very empowering to a lot of people and I believe the message got to everyone in different ways. I also encourage them to continue having panels at other high schools, hoping they get something important out of it like we did today.-Shatika S.

I really enjoyed the panel that came to the school today. I’ve never seen a panel have a discussion before so it was cool to be there and see how things work. In the beginning I thought that they were going to only be focusing on the presidential election, which made me indifferent about going to hear the panel. So when things got going and they started to cover different topics I felt confused and relieved. I was confused because I thought that everything was going to be about voting or endorsing Barack Obama, but when I saw that it wasn’t, I was happy that they talked about different subjects and that made me want to stay longer after the bell had rung.

The panelists had interesting things to say and one topic that really stuck out to me was, why are women being exploited by hip-hop and in videos and how can you stop it. The answer that stuck out to me was Rosa Clemente’s answer because she said that even though it happens a lot hip hop was not the first thing to exploit women.  This stood out to me the most because it’s very true. Hip-Hop did not begin the exploitation of women and publications such as Playboy magazine, which exploits women, has been around since 1953. So some of the topics really made me think and I like that because it helped me not to sit there and be bored. After the panel was done I was happy that I could go around and talk to the panelist with Yareli because they said some interesting  things. One thing that stood out to me was when I asked M1 was the forum a success he said the only way we would know was if he came back and we had more organizations on campus or if we decided to make a change. I think that this was a success because it kind of helped me want to be more politically active and I think it motivated the students know that if they want to do something then they can.-Brittany D.

I thought the whole event was very good. The panelists were just outstanding. The fact of just being in the room with those people is a privilege. All the stuff that they all said was very deep and knowledgeable. One of the panelists that really stood out to me was Rosa Clemente. Everything she had to say just stuck in my head and made me realize how the system works and how it’s degrading women. I agree with her because it is all true if you really think about it. It starts off since your little, how they cut the girls pants and the boys pants. Right there they are already dividing them up.

The things you say and the music you listen to can also be affecting the community. Saying stuff like b*tch, ho, slut, etc is affecting the younger generation. It’s making it seem like is OK to be disrespectful towards women. By just listening to songs that talk about slapping a b*tch or pimping hoes is already making it ok to say those stuff only because the artist are rapping it. It is also the radio stations’ fault for putting so many of those songs out there for us and younger kids to listen. If  they were to put more meaningful and  positive stuff on the radio I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be so much negative energy towards women. If we were exposed to more after school programs that teaches us about empowering women and about bettering our communities there would probably be less degrading of women and possibly less violence.

What Rico Pabon said about how he got into rapping was good. I  see that he started rapping to zone out to not be in that drug house. I also like what he said that, drugs took over his life without even doing drugs. The drugs affected his parents and his parents affected him by not always being there for him.

I would just like to thank all of the panelists that came for having a conversation and lacing us up on game and well really just spitting knowledge to us.-Kevin L.

What I thought about the event was that it was really good and exciting because I was paying attention to what they had to say. What really got my ears was that they were really taking more about the youth than them taking about themselves and hip-hop. I really like when Rosa Clemente talked about how her life and how her parents really didn’t teach her about sex and at a certain age she started having sex. She also talked about drugs and how to her weed isn’t a drug, but to our parents it is considered a drug. 

I also liked the students asking the panel questions because you can tell that they really cared about what they had to say and by that they learned a little bit about us. It seemed interesting that it was their first time coming to a high school because I thought that they were all over schools since their main focus was the youth. I was really interested in what they had to say and I like words that came out of their mouths when they referred about women being called the b word in hip-hop music. It’s just something that we girls can’t be called cause we are not that.-Daisy B.

I really enjoyed the Rap Session. All the people on the panel were very intelligent, prepared and knew what they were talking about. It was interesting getting to hear what they think about Hip-Hop and politics. They all had their opinions and I like how they way they were really talking to us. They were there to inspire us, telling us what we can do to improve in this country. I really liked the words of Rosa, the Black and Puerto Rican woman. She has ways with words that really makes you listen and she really inspired me. She was talking about how she never really experienced racism until going to an all-white college and fighting a white girl. She really brings your spirits up, talking about how she is proud of being multi racial and that we should all have the right to vote on the election because we all live here and its effecting us. Especially with youth today, they like, really inspired me to vote because we are the future. We can’t just sit here and complain about what is happening with our country. We have to go out there and get our voices heard. I would really like to thank all the people on the panel because they gave some very good information out to us not to get lost in life and stand up for what is right and always speak your voice. I liked that they let us go and ask questions to them, getting what we think about the situations and them giving us their opinions. I liked that they really cared. It’s not like some other adults thinking we are too naive and stupid to have our own opinions.  I am just thankful they came to our school and spoke because like professor Dawn said from SF state now you have us in your network and it’s a new door opened.-Juan Con.

I enjoyed listening to the panel yesterday.  I heard many opinions and feelings, some of which I agreed with and some I disagreed with.  Dawn said some real powerful things, like setting your own agenda. That is key!  If you don’t make your own decisions or plan your own life, someone else will do it for you.  Also, I liked how she talked about taking the wheel and not letting people drive you where they want to go.  Building and expanding your network is vital.  Meeting new people and interacting with them will get you far.  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Right now, I’m not sure what to think of hip-hop.  Some say it’s a religion, some say its music, others say it’s a way of life.  I guess it could be all three.  However, the music that’s being produced and put in the airwaves is crap.  It seems as if every artist is the same, no one really stands out, they all dress alike.  It’s just a shame.  White people are still pimpin’ blacks.  The thing is, the artists in the music industry aren’t speaking up or doing anything about it.  As long as they’re getting that paycheck it’s all good.  

I think the people rockin the mic featured on MTV and VH1 could be doing a whole lot more as far as being role models.  Most people don’t go into the business wanting to be role models but that’s what they end up being.  Young kids look up to them because they’re rich and famous.  They don’t know artists sell out and produce whatever sells.  Drugs, sex, and violence sell a lot these days.  All it takes is one person to take a stand and get people to realize the music is affecting people in a huge way but not in a good way.  

Record label execs don’t want people to hear something positive.  They don’t want to put out music that actually has meaning.  If people are only thinking about hoes, rims, and money, that’s all they’ll ever think about and records will keep selling.  You only know what you’re exposed to.  This kind of music isn’t making the world better its making it worse and quite frankly, I’m sick of it.  Some people in old-school hip-hop who had something decent say and who are still in the limelight should speak up about the music and how it turned into such trash and whether it can be changed.  People have more power than they think.  If individuals stop talking and start doing, we can change the world.-Zakiyah M.


1. Martin Rochin said at May 14, 2008 11:09 am:

A few friends and I reviewed some of the reflections here yesterday and we came to some of the same conclusions that some of us wrote in the reflections. We are grateful that the panel came to Unity first. However there were several things that could have improved the discussion. First off, I’d like to make it clear that I do not mean to insult anyone, merely to state what I did not state in my reflection and what I got from a very interesting conversation with my friends, whose names I won’t mention for their privacy, yesterday after reviewing some of the reflections on the infamous “Rap Sessions” panel. Another thing that led me to write this was that several people in the panel said that students in the colleges they had gone to did not talk and simply stared at them. Since I don’t feel I’ve anything to lose by being honest, won’t bite my tongue about some of the flaws my friends and I noticed. Some parts of the panel seemed more like a rally than a panel, such as the constant glorification of Barack Obama. Despite my personal biases, no one on the panel gave some solid examples as to why he’d truly make a better president than another candidate, but several of them simply threw his name out there. This made me feel no more informed than when I’ve seen the perpetual shouts of “CHANGE!” on television. Since the panel was supposed to be focused on the integration of hip-hop and politics, then it might be better to actually talk a bit more about relative politics, such as the constant cuts to education and immigration policies for the countless people with parents in this country illegally. It would also be good to actually talk about the connection between hip-hop and politics since it was never addressed in the discussion. The constant mention of the United States being a country of white supremacy was, of course, not unfounded. However I and my friends talked about this and we are past the simple demonization of white people since we’ve seen that not all white people are rich and racist. On a personal note, I was a bit frustrated that a few people in the panel took a Malcolm X “white devil” outlook during the discussion. My friends and I talked it over and came to the conclusion that the simple demonization of an entire group should be more commonly seen in those that have just began learning of their oppression and want to “find the enemy” even though it is almost never that simple. Perhaps one of the more pestering things in the discussion was that a lot of the questions went unanswered. While tangential answers can also lead to very interesting facts, certain questions seemed to be completely blown off because there were no simple answers, such as when someone asked what we can do to change the way things are in the U.S. I recognize there was on simple answer, but some ideas or a straight “I don’t know” would have been better than wandering from the subject and not making any connection to the actual question afterwards. A lot of us were looking for some guidance in the panel but, from what I’ve seen in the reviews, many found instead that it is not that easy to come up with solutions. The panel should address the question first then go into any relating story or go talk about something but connect it with the question afterwards because if someone does not see the connection, the question might as well have never been asked. To end on a positive note, the thing I most enjoyed and respected was the complete honesty of all those in the panel since I heard some very personal stories there that helped me connect with them instead of having feeling like I’d just been lectured by a monotone speaking professor like I do at some other events.

2. Mista Z! said at May 16, 2008 1:42 am:

Martin, I don't really have anything to add other than you raised some good points. I think the point of panels like these are to get us to think, yet they're not above being questioned. After all, who are these panels intended to benefit? Glad you're taking advantage of the panel to reflect and not demonize nor romanticize it!

3. Brittany D. said at June 6, 2008 6:42 pm:

I am glad that the panel came to Unity, even thoguh we are such a small school it is cool how have gotten to take part in such a big thing. One person on the panel I was really drawn to was Rosa Celemente. She seems to be very passionate about what she is doing, and that lets you know she cares about her work. I agreed with some of things she says like how on the west coast your brown, but on the east coast you black. That has been my experience on the east coast. Alot of my cousins and friends that would be considered "brown" in California are considered black on the east coast by alot people. After she said this I wondered if this was the reason why she refered to herself as a Black Puerto Rican. Part of me thinks that it is really ignorant to refer to yourself this way, but i guess that it was the she was raised. Rico Pabón did not talk much but I was most impressed by what he said when he did speak. Is life story is sad but inspiring because he did grow up to follow in the habits of parents or let that situation stop him from doing good in his life. Overall the panel was good and I hope that in the future more high school students and people my age get to be apart of it because it really gets you thinking.

4. Juan Cerna said at June 10, 2008 12:35 pm:

Its great how we are such a smalls school and there are famous programs and people cooming to Unity High School. When the session was done music really changed my mind in a lot of different view points. What changed for me is the type of music I use to hear. I never really realize that all I was hearing was the B word and money and sleeping with this and having all this jewelry. Its true for what females say that they get hurt when they hear does things in the radio station or people just singing the lyrics. When a few of my female classmates went up to ask a question one of them said, What can we do to stop this violance on music? I was really shock and it was a very powerfull question. My answer to that would be just stop listening to it get your mind out that music and teach people not to listen that music.

5. Mariana said at June 10, 2008 1:49 pm:

What i thought about the hip-hop panel was that they were very orriented to us about networking because its good for us to start meeting people because when we off to college its really going to help us out. Also they talk about poetry on how it influenced Rico Pabon in his music. They said that we have been growing up in a though neighboorhood or community and that we need to take all that in mind. For example having connections is helpful because when you have some kind of project you can look at your networking list for help on the project or for a job. Growing up in a tough neighboorhood can influence you to make a change in your community. For example it might motivate you to go to college and become and come back to make a difference.

6. Emmanuel said at June 12, 2008 3:52 am:

Hey Mr.z I really like the way that my speech is presented in this website. I found it really cool that you put my photo here. I am extremely excited to see what comments the guest speakers from this day had to say about my essay.

7. emmanuesl said at June 12, 2008 3:54 am:

I like all of the things that the panelists had to say about the problems all around the world and I also like the way they were so impressed with our students from Unity High.

8. Tania said at June 12, 2008 1:48 pm:

When i heard about the hip-hop panel I was like its going to be boring because we have heard it about it so many times. That they say the same thing over and over. But when we were there I realized that no it was something really different about it. It was true what they say that we need to have talks with people that you don't know. That will really help you in life. Because once you are getting older you are going to deal with things like this. Is helpful to get used to it. The more connections you have with different people of different places or culture the more opportunities you have in life to find a job or learn new different things.People might thing that hip-hop doesn't have anything with you in life but you don't realize it does. It does because many young kids do listen to that kind of music and they start at a young age saying that they want to do this and that. Some kids that have brothers or family that are in gangs and see that they hear that type of music makes them follow the same steps. Unlike that there are some songs that talk about being someone in life and not to keep the same steps as people that are going th wrong way. After this one hour talk about hip-hop changed my thoughts about hip-hop and makes me realize different things about life.

9. Patty Barraza said at June 12, 2008 8:40 pm:

after reading this summary, i think that Unity is a school that is heard of all around. i think overall the panel went really well. they had some good points and the students interacted with the people from the panel. the students also gave out some good points, they suprised the panel becasue of what some students said. they really interacte with one another. The conversation that was exciting, it wasn't boring. I though it would be but what they talked about made it more interesting.

10. Claudia Robles said at June 21, 2008 3:24 am:

After reading this article about the Hip Hop and Politics panel that we were lucky enough to have at school I thought that it was a real interesting article. I thought that it was real interesting to read that even though all of our panelists had only been at universities they decided to come to our high school which was the first high school that they have visited. I also would have to agree with you on he part about Rosa Clemente being one of the most interesting panelists because like you say she was one of the few of them that seemed to really relate to what it is that is going on right now with politics and Hip Hop. I also agree with you because Rosa was the one who talked about a topic that concerns all of us who are trying to get our education dealing with the fund cuts on programs such as Sex Ed and many more also Rosa also related all of that is happening right now and expressed her own feelings with a question that made most of us from the audience think and see how the society that we live in is not fair. For me it was also an interesting article because we got to see that most of the panelist were women that really understood what we as young women living in his society have to go through. This was also an interesting article because you specifically wrote how Rico Pavon explained that he was the one who had decided that he was going to change the route that his past three generations had created which dealt with their addiction either towards drugs and or alcohol or anything else. One last thing that I would have to say about this is hat like many of my classmates said we feel great full that we were the first high school that our panelist had ever gone to because this showed us that they actually thought that we could be a good audience in which they could spread all of their knowledge and one in which they felt that they were going to leave something behind so we all can come together and be part of a change like they are, so that we as youth can show the rest of the people surrounding us that all it takes to make a change is to have will and to know that what happens around us is something that affects us the most because we are the ones who are going to be living in this world and the ones who are having to deal with all of the injustices that surround us.

11. sencoecimeciG said at December 19, 2008 1:48 am:

Hi people As a fresh user i just wanted to say hi to everyone else who uses this site <:-)

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