The hottest rumor making the rounds is that entertainment and
fashion impresario Russell Simmons wants to be the new
president of the NAACP. As the story goes, Simmons is under
consideration because he will know how to engage young people in
political activity. If there is any credence to the rumor, his
wealth is surely part of the consideration as well.
We are told that any effort to appeal to young
black people today isn’t possible without a reference to hip
hop. Hip hop fashion and hip hop politics are already part of
the pop culture lingo.
Thanks to Simmons we now have the Hip
Hop Reader program.
Americans of all ages and races are far less literate than they
ought to be. Any initiative that encourages them to pick up a book
should be encouraged. There is nothing wrong with reaching the
youth where they live, but it is up to adults to tell them how
to behave, what is appropriate and to value things they may not
like or activities they may not want to take part in.
That ethos was accepted for generations. Now we are told that
hip hop is the only way to talk to teens and that no effort should
be made to broaden their outlook. Hip Hop Reader is the latest
example of that misguided belief system.
Hip Hop Readers are encouraged to read in order to get stuff,
stuff like Fubu clothes, Xbox video game systems, and Phat Farm
clothes. Apparently the point of reading is to get more clothes
and games. Hip Hop Reader makes no attempt to give young people
a reason to read other than getting more stuff, something that
teens need no encouragement to do.
The books on the Hip Hop Readers list are assessed a certain number
of points. The more points earned through reading, the more stuff
earned. The recommended authors list is quite diverse, including
Angela Davis, Chinua Achebe, Malcolm X, William Shakespeare, DMX,
Tupac Shakur and Maya Angelou.
Out of sixty-five recommended books on the
web site, only eleven are written by women. It isn’t good for girls or boys to think
that women are less important or less intelligent than men. If
Hip Hop Readers creates misogynistic boys or self hating girls
it isn’t doing anyone any good.
Simmons has won supporters who ought to know better than to ally
themselves with an educational program that barely pretends to
educate anyone. The Hip Hop Reader Leadership Council includes
Dr. Howard Dodson, executive director of the Schomburg Center for
Research in Black Culture, the world renowned research library.
If Dr. Dodson wants to be part of this project he should point
out that women write as many books as men do.
But Simmons’ money talks, and the result is
that organizations like the Schomburg Center and the National
Urban League, who ought
to say no thanks, have happily hopped on the bandwagon of middle
brow taste and capitulation to what children think they need.
If Hip Hop reader Simmons heads the NAACP we have nothing good
to look forward to. We will have hip hop political summits, only
men will have anything to say, and everyone will get a brand new
Xbox. It is difficult to be a naysayer concerning a project with
seemingly worthy goals. So instead of complaining about giving
kids more opportunities to watch Grand Theft Auto, a few suggestions
may be in order.
Simmons is a very wealthy man and there are a slew of corporate
sponsors for Hip Hop Readers. They might consider anteing up for
something more useful than Fubu. Perhaps the Hip Hop Readers can
become Hip Hop theater goers, or maybe Hip Hop public speakers.
Hip hop writing comes to mind. Maybe hip hoppers can learn foreign
The participating high schools in the Hip Hop Readers program
are all in New York City. Why not expose students to the many cultural
opportunities unique to New York City life. They might learn to
read music. On the other hand, that could be the death of hip hop.
The education of young black people can’t be left to music entrepreneurs.
The black community has always had educators. They must speak up
about Hip Hop Reader and any other well meaning but misguided efforts
made on behalf of the youth. Someone has to point out adults must
lead children, which among other things should mean that video
game equipment can’t be a prize for reading books. Responsible
adults shouldn’t run for cover because people and organizations
who ought to know better have succumbed to the urge to rub shoulders
with or perhaps profit from a connection with Simmons.
It is true that money rules, but we don’t have
to believe it is the be all and end all of how we live our lives
or educate our
children. The value of the Hip Hop Readers program should not be
assumed because a rich man is its founder, nor should the post
of NAACP president be given to him without question.
Philanthropy has its place, and if Mr. Simmons
wants to play that role he must take a back seat to those with
the expertise necessary
to develop an educational program. If he isn’t willing to do that,
he should return to what he does best and leave education to educators.