Change Yourself to Change the WorldChange Yourself to Change the World

Letter From The Chair

As an organization, the National Hip Hop Political Convention (NHHPC) strives to be truly representative of the Hip Hop political community. Through Elements and the newly developed website (http://www.nhhpc.org), the work of organizers working under the title NHHPC can now be highlighted, shared, and critiqued by the constituency that we claim to represent and advocate for. Through the use of our website and Elements, members of the Hip Hop community can make the organization more democratic and accountable than ever before.

I am excited that the NHHPC has reached a point where a publication to share our work with the greater Hip Hop community is practical. This expansion should not be taken lightly because it marks a new chapter in the development of our national organization. I am proud of the fact that so many writers have stepped up and volunteered to contribute to this publication. The caliber of writers we have participating is amazing. Among the ranks of contributors, we have writers whose published work can be found in top Hip Hop and political publications such as The Source, Allhiphop.com, Hiphopdx, and The Nation. Some of our writers have authored books and published in scholarly journals while others write consistently for local weeklies and daily local newspapers.

With a publication and website, we now have the opportunity to show the world that Hip Hop extends far beyond the arts and counter the negative smear campaign corporate media has perused since Hip Hop’s inception. As a generation, we cannot and should not expect Viacom, CNN, Fox News, or any other corporate owned media outlet to tell our story correctly. We must do it ourselves.

This new chapter also provides an opportunity to show the world that the Hip Hop community is complex and has a professional class as diverse as the ethnicities that make-up Hip Hop itself. As we continue to grow and develop, we hope to unify the various groups of professionals existing among us so their skills can be used to benefit the Hip Hop community. In a manner similar to the way we have united a group of writers, we hope to unite lawyers in the organization who can work to defend our rights and privileges, along with scholars and educators who can teach the history of Hip Hop without the biases of those who have no direct relationship to the community or culture. Wherever and whenever we can identify a common group of professionals within our ranks, we will attempt to organize them into a unified force that will work to further truth and justice for the Hip Hop community and society as a whole.

We invite everyone to join this movement and get involved in some form or fashion. Our membership is open to all who are interested. Membership is easy and only requires visiting the NHHPC Website Registration Page. While there is a nominal fee, we will work with everyone who wants to become a member regardless of her/his financial situation. One privilege of membership is the opportunity to contribute to this publication.

I look forward to reading this monthly publication as we count down to the 2008 National Hip Hop Political Convention taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, August 1-3, 2008. We all have little less than a year to prepare for the biggest Hip Hop political gathering in history. As we get closer to that date, you will be able to keep up with convention planning, details, and conversations through Elements and the new website (http://www.nhhpc.org/).

We invite everyone who is serious about making a change in their community, in this country, and throughout world to join us and become members of an organization I think will ultimately change the direction of this country from a path of greed to the path of social and economic justice for all.

In Struggle,

Troy Nkrumah
Chair, National Hip Hop Political Convention

Women’s Barriers to Healthcare
Jasmin A. Young
According to various sources, anywhere from 32 million—50 million people in the United States have no healthcare. However, the number of uninsured Americans is only one aspect of the healthcare dialogue. Despite the growing knowledge about how bad the healthcare situation is in the US, very little discussion has involved the unique relationship of women to the healthcare system.

Women’s relationship to the healthcare system is often overlooked and seldom discussed. According to a national profile survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, women have higher incidences of chronic health problems than men and, because women also have a lifetime need for reproductive and related services, they are more likely to use healthcare services than men. As a result, the relationship women have to the healthcare system differs from the relationship men have to healthcare. However, women’s relationship to healthcare also differs amongst women from different races and classes because their ability to receive adequate, proper health care often varies by race and class. Age, ethnicity, geographic location, health status, and health needs are all things that impact a woman’s ability to access and utilize healthcare. These details, in turn, have major effects on women’s ability to receive preventative, diagnostic, and treatment services. These obstacles are economic, historical, logistical, and cultural in nature.

Class and Education Matter
Disparities in health care are especially pervasive for women of color and working class women. A woman’s ability to utilize available healthcare can be hindered by a lack of time due to competing family and work responsibilities, out of pocket expenses, restrictions on physician choice and education about their specific health status and needs.

A woman’s class status plays a significant role in the ways in which health care services are provided. For reasons that are largely economic, a woman with less than a high school education receives a vastly different type of care than a woman with a Masters degree. Education leads to higher income, which allows her to purchase comprehensive health coverage, better housing, and an overall healthier lifestyle. Formal education can also provide women with enhanced decision-making skills, which then allow women to successfully manage their health problems and interact with the health care system.

Race Matters
A woman’s ethnicity and race have historically played a role in shaping her relationship to the healthcare system. According to Native American women’s rights activist Andrea Smith, during the 1970s, “30% of all Puerto Rican women and 25-40% of American Indian women were sterilized without their informed consent.” With such a history, women of color, specifically Blacks, Latinas and Native Americans have a good reason not to trust the healthcare system. Additionally, because women of color are disproportionately part of the working class, they may have greater health needs but are less likely to utilize or have access to healthcare services.

Preventative care is an especially important aspect of health care for women. The early detection of diseases through screening paves the way for prevention and early treatment of more costly and damaging conditions. Because women of color disproportionately lack health care, white women are more likely to be diagnosed in early stages of diseases, where as women of color and low income women are likely to be diagnosed in severely advanced stages of disease.

Time Matters
While lack of time is a universal barrier for all women seeking healthcare, working class women are impacted disproportionately. Working class women are often discouraged from requesting sick leave or time off for doctor’s visits because they don’t want to do anything to jeopardize their employment. Employment responsibilities combined with single parenthood may result in women rarely visiting the doctor. Female single parents are constantly challenged to ensure both their own and their children’s physical wellbeing. Unfortunately, this juggling act most often comes at the expense of their physical and mental health. Problems obtaining transportation and child care are also barriers resulting in delays and forgoing care, these types of obstacles can be overcome; other barriers are not as easily solved.

Culture Matters
Women’s cultural beliefs about medical care contribute to their use of health services over all. Reproductive care, prescription drugs, treatment, screening and testing are all influenced by women’s cultural beliefs. For example, the stigma associated with mental healthcare deters a sizable number of women from utilizing mental health professionals, such as psychologist or psychiatrist. A number of women—especially those of color—are taught to be self-sufficient and that social service agencies and religion are tools to handle daily stress, anxiety, frustration and pain. One common belief is that depression and other common mental illnesses are results of “just being tried” or “over worked.” In short, when it comes to health women are more likely to address their physical well being and neglect their mental health.

A Strategy for Change
These factors are rarely considered in health care discussion but should be, especially in conversations about health care reform. According to the National Center for Health Statistics women and children use health care services far more than men. “Any effort to improve the health and well being of our families must have women’s health as a vital component,” says Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. Increasing healthcare costs pose a barrier to women receiving the care they need and deserve. The burdens of higher premium costs, larger co-payments and increasing price of prescription drugs heavily effect women because of they use healthcare services more frequently than men but disproportionately live in poverty.

Women’s access to and utilization of healthcare services depend upon their ability to overcome obstacles that are logistic, economic, cultural and historical. Problems with transportation, childcare, or finding free time can be universal barriers, but obstacles specific to racial and ethnic identification or class status have a profound effect on women receiving health care service. The complexity of women’s lives must be considered when developing strategies to improve the overall care provided to people in the United States and specifically women.

Forty –Six Million Americans Can’t Be Wrong
Matt Birkhold

The possibility for a long healthy life seems grim for forty six million Americans who are not able to visit a doctor for simple things such as physical exams or more serious conditions such as gall bladder surgery or testicular cancer. Fewer Americans enjoy health care as an employment benefit today than at anytime since the 1950s. Since 2000, cuts in job related healthcare have created a 6.8 million increase in the number of uninsured Americans—a number is slated to increase along with the grim possibility of a long, healthy life. There is a definite link between higher income and access to health care but even those who make as much as $60,000 a year are finding themselves in trouble when it comes to surgery costs and reasonably priced coverage. Consequently, health care is less attainable for all Americans and the struggle for healthcare reform provides an immense opportunity to build coalitions across race and class lines.

Who Are the Forty-Six Millions Without Healthcare?

According to the 2005 census, 46.6 million people, or 15.9 percent of all Americans lived without any health insurance coverage during 2005. This is an increase from 2004 when 15.6 percent of Americans, or 45.3 million, lived without health insurance. Of these 46.6 million Americans, 14.8 percent are white (11.2 percent of whom are non Hispanic), 19.5 percent are black, 17.9 percent Asian, 29.9 percent indigenous American, 21.8 percent Pacific Islander, and 32.6 percent Latino/a. The largest percentages of uninsured Americans live in the South but most uninsured Americans live in major urban centers. 24.4 percent of those uninsured make less than $25,000 a year and 26 percent make between $25,000 and $50,000 annually. Importantly, of those who are uninsured, only half of them make less that $50,000 annually. This provides an important opportunity for young, poor people without access to insurance as well as middle class Americans without insurance.

When it Rains it Pours

According to a March 2007 New York Times story, a fifty-year-old white female who made about $60,000 last year is part of a growing middle class sector of the population without health insurance. A real estate agent, Vicki Readling of Salisbury, N.C., knew the coverage she enjoyed from a previous job expired in January 2006 and began looking for a new policy in mid 2005. Unfortunately, in June 2005, Readling was told by doctors she had Breast Cancer and, because breast cancer made her a “high risk” for insurance companies, she could no longer find a coverage plan that would cost her less than $27,000 a year.

Doctors have recently told a twenty six year old Bronx born Afro-Dominican woman who lives in Philadelphia that was not available for quote clearance that she has gallbladder polyps. According to her, Doctors have said “its rare to have polyps in your gall bladder, especially at my age. But, because polyps are abnormal tissue growth (tumors) they can be benign or malignant. It all depends. Either way, I still need the surgery to remove the gall bladder. But they got to first identify what the tumors are.”

The young Bronx born woman has reason to be concerned. Unfortunately, her concerns are not only health related. “I hope that I will be okay. But my insurance expires, so that’s the challenge right now. I am optimistic but it’s just difficult,” she said. The following day she had an appointment with a specialist she hoped would refer to a doctor in New York, where she is still a legal resident, and thinks that the medicated coverage she had growing up can be reactivated.

Healing One Another

Typically, an Afro-Dominican working class woman and a middle class white woman may have absolutely nothing in common when in comes to traditional political concerns. However, both are faced with serious health conditions and jobs that provide no healthcare benefits. They are both left in the dark, praying their condition does not deteriorate. Importantly, there may be other options. Should they not decide to “hope and pray,” they and 46.6 million Americans who lack health insurance can come together around the one issue they desperately need addressed even if they differ on other political issues. In the US, 15.9 percent of Americans are uninsured and, according to Pew Center provided data, 65 percent of Americans support some kind of government initiated universal healthcare. Within these groups lay a potential bloc of voters to whom no candidate can afford to not be accountable. The largest challenge ahead may lie in getting all those involved to see their potential.

One Suffering American is Too Many
Anthony Springer Jr.

Most people either love or hate Michael Moore, rarely is there any middle ground. Over the years, he’s placed many of America’s biggest industries in front of his lens including the gun industry (Bowling For Columbine), and the American government (Fahrenheit 9/11). Moore’s latest offering, Sicko is no different. Although ripped to shreds by conservative pundits who accuse him of everything from inflating statistics about the American health care system to exploiting the individuals in the film, Sicko hits right between the eyes regardless of how you feel about Moore.

As always, Moore takes viewers on a wild and emotional roller coaster ride. The movie opens with sobering statistics on the American health care system. More than 40 million of us are without insurance and 18,000 die each year as a result. Moore fails to cite many statistics, which leaves him, and the film, wide open for criticism. However, even if his statistics are off, Moore effectively drives home the point that in the world’s wealthiest nation, far too many people are suffering.

What may be more astonishing than the amount of people who have no access to health insurance at all are the treatments received by many Americans who do have adequate health care coverage. Moore provides several emotional examples of hard working Americans who have encountered the bureaucracy of our HMO system. This emotional blow concludes after we learn the fate of many of the movie’s subjects one of whom included a white woman whose black husband was denied a routine bone marrow treatment by his insurance company after finding his own donor and died.

Going back to Nixon’s administration, Moore dives into the origins of our current system, carefully weaving together historical facts with testimony from doctors formerly employed by giant health insurance companies who received bonuses based on how many people they deny treatment to each year.

Like a roller coaster ride with ups and downs, Moore offers glimmers of hope revealing that there was once a brave soul on Capitol Hill who lobbied for universal health care. However, true to roller coaster form, Moore throws viewers through another loop, later revealing that our universal health care advocate was silenced by the opposing political party and then paid off by lobbyists from the health care system.

Sicko’s second half finds Moore traveling the globe to uncover what many Americans believe to be the evils of universal health care. To his sarcastic shock and dismay, he finds few drawbacks in Canada, France and surprisingly, Castro’s Cuba.

The land of Fidel finds Moore at his best. He blends elements of outrageous comedy (renting a boat and visiting Guantanamo Bay with ill 9/11 rescue workers), raw emotion, and generosity (the rescue workers receive what would amount to thousands of dollars of treatment and medication in the U.S., free of charge).

Due to political red tape, we may never know the extent of the health care crisis in the United States. Critics of Moore miss the mark by labeling the movie “anti-American” propaganda while wasting time over analyzing statistics. Moore’s sole point with the movie is to show that one suffering American is too many.

There are a lot of things that Sicko is not. However, it is the first stone in David’s battle with the health care Goliath. It is a rallying cry and a cinematic plea for us to take to the streets and demand what we want, similar to the good citizens of France.

Let’s hope we hear the call and pick up stones of our own. Maybe the revolution will be televised.

Chi City Finds Forever
J. Michael Carr Jr.

As one of the hiphop generation’s most prolific artists, Common has taken his revolutionary spoken word worldwide. Few artists, especially hiphop artists, can boast of international notoriety as a rapper, entrepreneur, actor, and freedom fighter. In addition to all of that, I am proud that we’ve shared the south side of Chicago experience. From that point of view, I have been able to listen to Common’s music through the eyes and ears of a fellow comrade in the struggle for spiritual salvation. Common’s music not only details his personal journey, but by detailing emotions ranging from pride to sorrow, Common’s music is also a mirror to the soul of humanity conveyed through prose that would make the late Oscar Brown Jr. proud to hand over the key to Chi-City. A friend once told me, “Jay-Z is that cat you want to be, but Common is the man inside all of us.”

With that, Common’s latest effort, Finding Forever, is highly recommended for any collection. Even though it doesn’t have the bite of BE, Finding Forever showcases Common’s continued spiritual evolution. On BE, there was the sense that Common was bitter about comments made in reference to his appearance and artistic vibe. On Finding Forever, Common has quelled his bitterness and delivered another solid release. With executive production by Kanye West, the Lennon-McCartney of hiphop provide more thought provoking social commentary about the state of racial affairs, poverty, and hiphop. The dynamic duo thrives on value and substance in contrast to catchy hooks and computer generated beats. Musical samples range from Nina Simone to Paul Simon. The black pearls of the album include “The People,” “U,” “Black Maybe,” “South Side,” “the Game,” and “Misunderstood.”

So as hiphop continues to time travel from the past into the unknown, Common’s newest release Finding Forever proves there is a place for feel good music in the future. As long as there are Joes like Common, Kanye, and honorable mention, Lupe Fiasco holding it down for the Chi, hiphop will find forever.

August 1, 2007

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Where Politics and Hip Hop Merge: The National Hip Hop Political Convention
Matt Birkhold

Mainstream members of the Republican and Democratic parties have never cared much about the needs of young nonwhite people from urban areas or the needs of young people in general. Over the last fifty years, this problem has increased in severity because the needs of these groups have changed while the understandings politician’s have of them have not. Since the legal desegregation of schools in 1954 and the legalization of abortion in 1973, the American political reality has been in a state of change that has had both positive and negative consequences for all Americans. While older politicians fail to understand the way these changes have impacted young people and people of color, the impact of these changes are understood very well by members of the hip hop generation.

Back in the Days

Over the last fifty years legal racial discrimination was outlawed, abortion made legal, and the numbers of people of color in the media and in corporations increased. As a result, many people now assume that racism and sexism are on their way out of American political and social life. However, that assumption denies the fact that during these same years the American education system became less effective, college became less attainable, and inner cities were torn apart by a drug called crack. Simultaneously, the US underwent a profound process of deindustrialization that produced an unemployment rate for people of color that was (and still is) at least two—six times higher than the unemployment rate for whites. When taken together, the introduction of crack, deindustrialization, and poor access to education became a set of tripe evils that led to the imprisonment of giant proportions of both black and brown men and women in numbers far greater than their percentage of the population. In addition to wide scale imprisonment, these triple evils also created an alarmingly high rate of murder in black and brown communities and an increase in drug addiction.

Additionally, over the last fifty years, health care has become more expensive and less effective, the right of women to have an abortion has been under constant attack, the representation of nonwhites in the media has begun to consist largely of racist caricatures, women have experienced unprecedented sexism both in public and in the media, and the United States has waged an unjust war with several countries in the Middle East producing a global death rate amongst nonwhites that is higher than the number of white lives lost to war.

While the situation described above may be a new political reality to the Unites States, it is anything but new to the hip hop generation. Poor health care, poor education, high unemployment, high murder rates, wide scale imprisonment of nonwhites, covert racism and overt sexism are the elements which make up the only reality the hip hop generation has ever known. Unfortunately, older, established American politicians fail to understand this political reality because, unlike the hip hop generation, they do not live it. Hip hop was born from this political reality and the founding of the National Hip Hop Political Convention is an attempt to change this political reality and create a new one.

The World is Ours

Founded in 2004 as a result of efforts put forth by hip hop generation activists, the first of a biannual series of conventions called the National Hip Hop Political Convention occurred in Newark, New Jersey. Drawing over 6,000 people, the convention ended with the creation of a five-point National Hip Hop Political Agenda and an organization of the same name. Following the 2006 convention in Chicago, the agenda was expanded to include the seven following items:

1. Education Reform
2. Economic Justice
3. Criminal Justice Reform
4. Health
5. Human Rights
6. Gender Equality
7. Media Justice

In an attempt to realize the National Hip Hop Political Agenda, the National Hip Hop Political Convention has created a steering committee at the national level that seeks to give a political voice to the hip hop generation. At the local level, the convention consists of Local Organizing Committees (LOCs) in Boston, New York, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, the Triad cities of N.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Omaha, Las Vegas, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

What They Do

LOCs have participated in a wide array of activities including, but not limited to, rebuilding New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, screening and promoting the film Beyond Beats and Rhymes, registering voters in numerous cities, protesting police brutality, and creating and conducting political education campaigns at the community level.

As a whole, the National Hip Hop Political Convention works to improve health and wellness, improve the quality of education, and create economic opportunities in communities that have been denied the protection of these basic human rights. The Convention teams with organizers, activists, elected officials, and concerned citizens to collectively advocate progressive initiatives for social change by increasing civic education, civic engagement, and direct action in partnership with organizations that support the National Hip Hop Political Agenda. Creating a path to better reach these goals is the aim of the 3rd biannual National Hip Hop Political Convention in Las Vegas in August 2008.

Brother Ali’s Underground Appeal                 

Brother Ali and his Underground Mass Appeal
Jessica LaShawn

I recently witnessed hip hop history at a concert in Chicago featuring the NHHPC’s own Mr. Toki Wright and Brother Ali. The Chicago stop on their national tour devoted to the underground’s prime musical geniuses united youth at the famous Abbey Pub where Brother Ali stood out as the people’s choice. One young lady traveled from as far away as from Kansas City to see him.  Her face lit up when she saw Ali and asked him to sign her shoe, a popular demand Ali says is “disgusting,” but gladly does for his people.  He is bombarded by youth of different backgrounds with one thing in common, they all relate to his music, his passion, and the message.

According to Ali, “My music is just an expression of my life, the things I go through and how I plan on dealing. I’ve been through a lot, I’m an adult, I have a family, and I have to strive to support them. What I do is not about hip-hop, it’s about embracing one of the things I love to do. I take this seriously.” When asked why he chose to peruse a career in hip hop he assured me that he “didn’t chose hip hop. I was just doing what I love. My music allows me to bring others into my world and show them my perspective. I’m albino, legally blind, and I have gone through a lot. I have a song called “Forest Whitiker,” which talks about my quest to love and identify with myself. People can relate because everybody goes through that period in time when they have to evaluate themselves and see how they view themselves and think about the angle in which another person is coming from when they try to bring you down.” In case Ms Kansas City hadn’t clearly convinced me of Ali’s importance to his fans, the amount of times our conversation was interrupted by people showing their love and appreciation for Brother Ali’s craft left no doubt about his importance. They fought tears, called friends on their cell phones, asked for autographs and pictures, shook hands, hugged, and bonded. For Ali, its part of the job, “I gotta take time out for my people. My music means something to them just like it means something to me.”

I couldn’t help but ask what the biggest challenges his career had faced thus far, and he described the backlash that surfaced after the debut of his video “Uncle Sam.” “ I lost a lot of sponsorship after that but I had to get the message out there. We went down to the capitol without any permits and just did what we had to do. It’s a powerful song and it was worth the drama.” I asked why incorporating political issues, ideas, and agendas into his music were important and he took a moment and said “ politics is in every aspect of our lives. We are governed in some kind of way, be it by our religions, the elected official, school authorities and whomever else. I don’t address issues in a way where I am trying to enforce a certain way of thinking but I do acknowledge the issue, why I think it is wrong and include a possible solution. Its up to the listener to agree or disagree, in the end as long as the problem is exposed and I’ve released some energy the mission is complete.” Finally I request that he tell me what makes underground different from mainstream hip hop and he states, “it’s a free medium. I’m blessed because after so long I was approached by major labels requesting distribution deals. But I still have that rawness about my material. I talk about real life and not that fake stuff that seems to be over glorified. That’s what hip hop is and the underground accepts the founders and/or legends of this lifestyle. We recognize them and embrace them. You don’t have to live up to certain things but just be real.

Visit Brother Ali at www.BrotherAli.com and on myspace at www.myspace.com/brotherali

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