Trials of Hip Hop Educator: An Open Letter to the Class of ‘09
By Tony Muhammad
Dear Class of ’09,
Congratulations, not just saying it just to say it, but meaning it with all of my heart and soul because very few in this world expected you to make it this far! While you, your family and friends have been waiting patiently for this day for 13 plus years, there have been certain others; people in positions of power that have been anticipating your fall, just like how many of your fellow classmates didn’t make it to see this day for a variety of reasons.
When tragedy befalls the innocent and/or the powerless it brings to us much pain. This contains a deeper and harder meaning when we realize and consider that our communities disproportionately suffer from great ailments in comparison to the White majority. These ailments include poverty, police brutality, incarceration, street violence, domestic violence and overall, in the immortal coinage of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “Mis-education,” which is yet another form of violence and truly most determines our condition today as Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and generally peoples of color. Injustice from this system that we have come to know as the United States of America continues to be the order of the day for us despite many of you becoming so inspired this school year to take part in some way to make sure that this county’s first African American President was elected. Despite the losses and the pain, you, Class of ’09, have shown and proved something very critical through your concerns, commitments and achievements, you are the light that sparks from within the darkness; the change we all hope for; the Cornerstone of the New Reality.
As you progress further in your education (not necessarily schooling) and increasingly become aware of the realities of this world your pain will increase and you will wonder at times if no one is interested in hearing your voices outside (or even within) your communities. You will begin to pay special notice to the Oscar Grants, the Cortez Browns and the Jena 6; people and circumstances that your teachers either refused or just simply didn’t have the opportunity to research and inform you about because they were too focused on getting you to pass an exam that was never meant for you to pass in the first place. Either this or we were too busy working to undo the damage of 13 plus years of mis-education; getting many of you to finally understand proper tense while speaking, proper word usage while writing (i.e. the difference between basic words such as “in,” “and” and “an”) and finally knowing the difference between the purpose of the Civil War and the meaning of the Civil Rights Movement – no longer confusing the two events with each other just because the word “Civil” is in both.
All and all, it is the increasing pain that you experience in becoming more and more aware of these things that will have you realize what your purpose in this world is. Your teachers, your real teachers that care about your growth and development are not exempt from this process. As you grow, we grow with every passing year we commit ourselves to this service. I, myself, after my 10th year of teaching, I could say with much pride that each succeeding year has been more rewarding than the last. It did not all get to be this way over night. Much pain needed to be experienced with you in the process. Just last year alone, we collectively shared an intense emotional sting when we engaged in a deep discussion about what goes through your mind when you hear gun shots fired late at night in your own neighborhoods. Most of you said that you thought of nothing when you hear gun shots because you are so used to hearing them. But soon after, your words proved otherwise because many of you began to cry when I simply asked “Why?” In contrast, this past school year, many of you that were in that very classroom engaged in that intense discussion had been part of the process of quickly informing the community of tragedy as soon as it took place. In so doing, I witnessed how you have been growing and maturing; embracing those in pain and offering your help whenever you were most needed.
In the larger context of things, despite the downtrodden economic times, everywhere around you and in every living thing a change is rapidly taking place. Even the frequency and expression of the popular music of the time is quickly changing. You must work to find out where you belong in the process. Regardless as to how much of the schooling of this world you plan to attain, just remember that true change will never be realized if we just simply plan to make ourselves valuable to someone else who is willing and is in a position to employ us, especially in these times when there aren’t too many jobs that are hiring anyway. We must first learn to become valuable to ourselves and our families and grow to be a benefit to our communities in some type of way. But do not get frustrated when things do not occur as soon as you want them to or as soon as they are needed. Just remember that no great civilization was built over night. The same thing can be said with the cultivation of an intelligent mind and the making of a productive people.
I wish you much love and success and may God bless,
Always your big brother,
Educator and Hip Hop Cultural Activist
Tony Muhammad teaches American, African American and African History at an inner-city high school in Miami and is currently involved in efforts to reform The African American Voices Curriculum for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference (2004 – 2008).