It is commonplace belief that music from our youth influences our taste in music for the rest of life, and that no music ever displaces the favorite music of our late teens and early twenties (this is lore, admittedly, not science), so it makes sense that this same period of music acquisition can influence much more:
The environmental movement has largely failed to connect with people of color and marginalized urban communities. By confronting issues from contaminated water to climate change, hip hop music can help bridge that divide and bring home the realities of environmental injustice.
When I was diversity director at North Carolina State University, part of my job was to recruit young people — often from communities of color — into the College of Natural Resources. It could be a struggle; these were talented and creative kids, but often they didn’t see how environmental or sustainability issues were relevant to their lives.
Then, a mentor who knew that I was a hip hop artist, made a suggestion: Why not try to reach them through your music? “Whatever comes naturally to you always captures peoples’ attention,” he said. On the next recruitment trip, I took his advice.
After introducing myself, I told the kids in the auditorium, “OK, when I pause, I want you all to say, ‘Come on.’” Then I began.
Here’s my minority report.
About what’s going on with the poor.
No clean water, got liquor stores…
Suddenly these kids were listening.
No banks, good housing can’t afford.
Got drugs, got guns, got more. Dope boys, no books, gym floor.
Deadpool, can’t swim, lead in my pores
Contaminated mentally challenged, I’m sore…
Now I had their attention. As we went through the lyrics again, the students started to make the connections between access to natural resources and community health, between representation and environmental justice. This wasn’t just about going to college, I told them – this was about having a voice, about doing something about these injustices, such as unsafe drinking water and lead contamination. And they got it.
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