WISDOM: A PORTRAIT SERIES
M A R T H A D I A Z
HIP-HOP EDUCATION CENTER
NEW YORK CITY
Photograph by Phil Knott
I. After being disillusioned by the music and entertainment industry in the mid to late 90s, I started to think about what I could do to challenge the status quo. I ended up leaving my job at MTV to pursue my career as an independent filmmaker as I wanted to document hip-hop and all if its artistic elements (DJing, B-Boying, Writing, MCing) as a global cultural movement. I soon realized that there was a need for a hip-hop film festival so I created the Hip-Hop Odyssey (H2O) International Film Festival. I invited filmmakers, industry professionals, activists, and hip-hop artists to join me in this venture, altogether over five hundred people volunteered and thousands of people participated in screenings, panel discussions, workshops, and the Odyssey Awards. The hip-hop legends came out to support. Kanye performed Jesus Walks for the first time, Grandmaster Flash rushed from the airport to receive his award, and Ice-T got emotional on stage after hearing Aja Monet perform. We made history and bonded as a community. We celebrated hip-hop, cultivated new and existing talent, and discussed the ways we could use media as a tool for social change. During the five years of the festival I started to notice that some of the filmmakers were also educators like me. I teamed up with Tricia Wang, who at the time was working for MNN Youth Channel and helped us create the youth category for H2O, to launch the first summit on hip-hop-based education. Like H2O, the H2ED Summit kept growing and expanding each year, but I couldn’t get the monetary support from corporate sponsors to stay afloat so in 2008, I enrolled in NYU’s Gallatin School for Individualized Study. I designed my course of study around hip-hop, media, education, and social entrepreneurship. In 2010, I founded the Hip-Hop Education Center (HHEC), the first institution to distill research, conduct evaluation and training, and catalog relevant hip-hop education related resources. There are now entire high schools and college programs that are utilizing hip-hop-based education.
II. The industry has to step up and work together with the community. They have to shift their mindset to believe that it's more important to build up people than to exploit them for profits. If not, they need to be held accountable for the garbage they put out. Strip clubs, violence, and drug dealing can’t be the norm for rap music. Radio stations are also culpable for the heavy rotation of the same ten songs. Hip-hop is part of a long legacy of African American and Latino history, traditions, and culture that has allowed us to resist and survive injustice. We deserve more respect and dignity. I know this may sound a bit ambitious but there is an urgency and the moment for reform is now. We can’t afford to have 1.1 million American high school students drop out every year. The school to prison pipeline is making matters worse. According the ACLU there is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” The U.S. has over to two million people incarcerated, more than all the prisoners in China, Russia, and North Korea. I can go on and on ... but instead I want to do something. The field of hip-hop education can make a difference.
III. We need to talk more about metaphysics beginning in kindergarten. When we study our existence, our nature, space and time, cause and effect, we begin to understand our purpose and the meaning of life. Metaphysics challenges us to think about our humanity and connection to the world. When we have knowledge of self and our community (5th Element of Hip-Hop), we become more present, empathetic, and spiritually linked because we know that we belong to each other.
IV. I am for peace, Unity, Love, and Having Fun! (Afrika Bambaataa)