Throughout 2023, the world has celebrated 50 years of Hip Hop, and the August 11, 1973 Block Party that birthed it. That historic back-to-school jam brought the elements together in a spirit of community. It illustrated the power of culture in Black freedom movements.
Hip Hop’s foundation is rooted at the intersection of culture and politics and is a reminder that community organizing has no boundaries. Culture can have an impact beyond its original intention. Throughout the Summer of 2023, events around the country continue to give us examples of culture as a tool to move messages. Attorney Johnny Barnes, founder of Living with the Law, is a longstanding proponent of this.
CULTURE BEYOND ENTERTAINMENT
Living with the Law educates people about the law, and Attorney Barnes has been a D.C. statehood movement leader. Over Memorial Day weekend he produced a roller-skating fashion show in the Washington, D.C. area. The event featured influencers including Push1515 of the Silver Fox Squad.
In comments to Upscale about this Memorial Day fashion show, Attorney Barnes stated,
As a young man whose first experience beyond the borders of the 30 square blocks that contained all Black people in Fort Wayne, Indiana; as the brother of Catherine Mae (Barnes) Simmons, the first to graduate from college in our family, who forged excitement and community cooperation by bringing the Ebony Fashion Fair to our sleepy town; and as one who became an attorney and served as Chief of Staff to Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy, one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s soldiers, and helped organize the March on Washington, I came to learn that the best way to stay out of trouble and make a difference was to stay active.
Attorney Barnes went on to say, “And the best way to organize our people is to keep them active. The strange bedfellows of roller skating and fashion shows have given me those very desired ends. Most importantly, roller skating and fashion shows caused me to learn that it is far more impactful, meaningful and important to build bridges.”
THE POWER OF FASHION
Keesha Williams, one of the roller-skating models and Ms. DMV talked to Upscale about the value of using culture to push civic engagement messaging. “As someone who holds the title of Ms. DMV 2023, I strongly believe that fashion has a significant impact on various aspects of our lives. Our clothing choices can reflect our political beliefs and personal identities from birth. They hold social power by influencing how we feel and what we believe, which can ultimately contribute to positive changes in our world. Fashion’s influence on politics allows us to view situations through a different lens and act toward creating meaningful change.”
THE POWER OF MUSIC
In Alabama, from June 23rd-25th the NAACP Alabama State Conference hosted the Shelby County Democracy Restoration Summit at the University of Montevallo. This three-day event brought attention to the 2013 Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In addition to the traditional rally and workshops, this gathering used the power of culture. It included a Hip Hop 50 Strategy Session highlighting the connection between Hip Hop Culture and the Civil Rights Movement. Award-winning music producer, rapper, and actor David Banner made a surprise appearance, and gospel rap artist Dante’ Pride performed. The Shelby County Democracy Restoration Summit also included a concert with headlining artist Peabo Bryson and featured Glenn M. Ray and David Banner.
LONG LIVE THE CULTURE
As the justice movement continues beyond the Black Lives Matter era, the Culture gives us a framework for moving forward. During Hip Hop’s Jubilee year, we salute the architects who shaped it and the visionaries that will propel it. This current iteration is following tradition. And with 2024 being an election year, we are sure to see a continued rise of culture in community mobilization.