Trials of a Hip Hop Educator: Kwanzaa and the Need for Proper Role Modeling

Trials of a Hip Hop Educator: Kwanzaa and the Need for Proper Role Modeling


By Tony Muhammad


 Between the on-going moral degeneration superimposed by popular culture (on radio, television, etc.), culturally biased standardized exams that are designed to keep another generation of poor peoples of color as an underclass coupled with the genocidal (and even suicidal) condition of the streets, there is very little real guidance that is being provided to our youth of color.  Many teachers, religious leaders and community leaders have found their efforts in reaching out to the youth as ineffective and so, many times they place a lot of energy blaming the children themselves for being the way that they are.  On another level, too many parents nowadays fall on the opposite extreme of the spectrum.  Instead of providing guidance to their children, they try to be their friends.  They indulge in the same type of foolish behavior as their children; ritualistically watching the same garbage “reality show” programming such as I Love New York, dressing in the same butt crack revealing tight jeans as their daughters and the same underwear revealing saggin’ jeans as their sons, in many cases smoking the same blunt or even hanging out at the same strip clubs.  In their efforts to relive their youth, many single mothers go out partying to late hours of the night and leave their children to fend for themselves.  Other single mothers kick their teenage daughters out of the home once they find a boyfriend that might possibly make them feel loved. 


These children, in turn, respond with resentment.  In the classroom, they are typically either the quietest ones who refuse to participate or the most disruptive ones, always seeking attention in school because they get no attention at home.  Many young ladies end up pregnant in their own quest to feel loved.  When the young men that they were hoping to be with abandon them upon finding out about the pregnancy, they develop high hopes that in the end the baby will give them the love and attention they have been seeking all along.  What they find is that life is even harder as a teen mother and many at times they may develop the resentful position that the baby is more of a burden than a new creation that is to nurtured and loved.  And so, the cycle of self-hatred and misguidance continues.


While there are many inner-city success stories about poor families raising their children properly and the children themselves overcoming obstacles to eventually become accomplished and responsible men and women in life (and they should be celebrated), there are too many other stories full of strife resulting from misguidance or straight up ignorance.  Today, Hip Hop educators are in the best position to inspire hope and change in the minds of youth that are in much need of guidance.  The first teacher of guidance is proper role modeling. The Hip Hop educator should always demonstrate interest in knowing about his/her students’ interests – not necessarily supporting their views all the time, but NEVER JUDGING!  The students should instead be challenged to think about why they think the way they do, if their choices necessarily are the best ones and where do their beliefs come from.  Approaching students in this manner will more than likely produce better results than by simply pointing the finger at them and telling them that they are wrong.  They receive enough blame from the rest of their world for being the way that they are just like how Hip Hop today is being blamed for everything negative in society.  Neither the children nor Hip Hop made themselves.  They are both shaped by the power and influence of people and things that produced everything they see and experience.  It is getting them to realize this that aids them in cracking through the Matrix one code at a time.  In the process the Hip Hop educator, just like any other educator, should model as much possible responsible dress, responsible language and responsible behavior (especially patience).  Think about it this way, perhaps the most stable place for many of these students throughout the course of the day is your classroom.  Knowing this, the stability that you foster as a teacher should not only be valued, it should be protected.


A key part of proper role modeling is providing outlets and opportunities through which students can learn more about themselves and express themselves accordingly.  Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to organize a Kwanzaa poetry gathering at my school.  It turned into a poetry contest, in which the students who developed and recited the best poem focused on one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa won prizes.  Knowing that students tend to view teachers within a one-dimensional framework (that is, they can’t imagine a teacher being anything else other than a teacher), I had poets and community leaders participate at the gathering.  Kicking off the event was Kemetic (Egyptian) Yoga instructor Ankh Akhu answering many of the students’ questions on what Kwanzaa is all about, its origins and its principles.  What moved the students the most about his discussion was his angle on “bling bling” and how the inner bling bling is what is most important.  Modeling how poetry is written and delivered to impact audiences was Miami veteran poet Kimani Kenyatta.  Both were very well received.  What I found most interesting is how many of the same students that often criticize “Old School Hip Hop” for its lyrical inclusion of “big words,” were mesmerized while hearing Kimani innovatively spit intelligence like if saying, “Damn, I want to flow like that!”  Before the contest began, rules were outlined to the students; “No booing, no hissing, no negative energy, only positive energy and encouragement to their fellow students.”  With all of this, the event ran smoothly.  The following week, while students were studying and reviewing for mid-term exams, there was a strong level of Unity (Umoja) and Cooperation (Ujima) amongst them, much more so than usual.  I don’t believe it is by coincidence that they were focused on putting these two principles of Kwanzaa into practice.  Now the key is to not just have the students keep this vibe going throughout the school year, but show them the purpose of putting these principles into practice for the rest of their lives.  I’ll be sure to keep you all informed!


More to come next month …




The Principles of Kwanzaa as established by Dr. Maulana Karenga (source:


(The Seven Principles)


Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.


Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.


Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.


Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.


Nia (Purpose)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.


Kuumba (Creativity)
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.


Imani (Faith)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.


           ­ Maulana Karenga


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