At Cal U’s 11th annual Hip-hop Conference, two figures with national stature reminded Cal U students to stand up for their rights, work together and continue the fight against racism.
Cynthia Obiekezie introduces herself to rap legend Chuck D.
The April 26 panel presentation brought a crowd of more than 150 students, faculty and staff to Morgan Hall for a wide-ranging discussion with Sybrina Fulton, mother of the late Trayvon Martin, and Chuck D, founder of the groundbreaking rap group Public Enemy.
Fulton, author of “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin,” described how her “average, ordinary life” was upended when her son was shot and killed in 2012.
“To lose a child is a different type of loss … a more severe pain,” she said. Although she battled depression and cried alone every day, Fulton chose to appear strong in public as she “committed my life to fighting for young people” through a nonprofit foundation that provides support for families who have lost a child to gun violence.
Chuck D, who redefined hip-hop as a socially conscious art form, urged students to learn about local government and get involved with community affairs.
“There’s nothing on the streets we can gain from,” he said, dismissing artists who glamorize violence. “It takes ‘doers’ and ‘thinkers’ to make a solid community. You’ve got to come back from college, come back to where you live, with something your community can use.”
Both speakers spoke bluntly about racism in America – comments that appeared to resonate with both the black and white students in the audience.
“People with big voices, with celebrity status, don’t always speak out,” Fulton said. She referred to racism as “not the elephant in the room, but the enemy in the room.”
“How can you be silent when you know it’s wrong?”
Fulton’s comment struck home with Samira Wilson, who’s studying communication disorders. “We have to recognize what that enemy is,” she said. “We have to realize what we’re fighting – and it’s not ourselves.”
Jerron Corley, a journalism major, said people of all races need to face these difficult issues. “It’s important to allow a diverse group of people into that space. We have to all work together to find a solution.”
A remark by the panel’s moderator, psychologist Dr. Traice Webb-Bradley, stood out for psychology major Cynthia Obiekezie, president of the Black Student Union at Cal U.
“When she said ‘we don’t need allies, we need accomplices’ – that could be my bumper sticker,” she said. “I wish more people were open to the idea that we need all types of people around us.”
JohnKarl Council, a business major and music minor, left the auditorium energized by what he heard, especially from Chuck D.
“I liked his encouragement to students, to keep pushing on,” he said. “To hear that message from influential people in society, and to hear that in a group setting – it’s important to make people aware.”
Cal U’s annual Hip-hop Conference is organized by Dr. Kelton Edmonds, a history professor who counts Public Enemy among the best rap groups of all time. Sponsors for the 2019 conference were the Office of the President; Office of the Provost; American Democracy Project; Department of History, Society, Politics and Law; Black Student Union; Cal U Men United; Cal U Women United; and the College of Liberal Arts.