20,000 Kids Have Learned Hip-Hop From One Revolutionary Network. Today’s Plague Won’t Stop It Either.

Students create hip-hop projects rooted in knowledge of Oakland public parks and climate change as part of Agents of Change youth artist residency program, funded by the California Arts Council. (Pictured pre-pandemic.)Sarah Arnold Photography/Hip Hop for Change

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Turning a pandemic into an opportunity for educational and artistic empowerment is what Khafre Jay lives for, and his celebrated Hip Hop for Change network isn’t about to let today’s crisis (just the latest) short-circuit its mission. Before this pandemic, his grassroots group worked in schools and on the ground, teaching more than 20,000 kids the hopeful messages and inspiring beats of hip-hop as a human rights movement.

Plague be damned, Jay is finding fresh ways to adapt: hosting a weekly Zoom for kids and teachers, sharing grant applications with unemployed artists, producing homemade hip-hop videos, and keeping people alive—HipHopForChange.org has a directory of resources for kids to get food, rent, utilities, and health care. “We’re always thinking of how to take care of our staff, our people, our folks,” he tells me, including an emergency fundraiser for artist-educators who’ve lost their jobs. 

His group just scored two grants from the California Arts Council, one to provide free programming to all public libraries in Oakland and the other for an environmental justice summit. “We’re bringing environmental and hip-hop people together who don’t normally get to rock out. It’s amazing to think that we’ve taught more than 22,000 kids. When you create hip-hop curriculum, kids are gonna ask you for it! These kids are starving for any kind of culturally relevant pedagogy. They want enrichment.”

Hip Hop for Change also hosts women’s empowerment summits, after-school classes, and mentor workshops. “We’re investing in a nonviolent movement of resilience. I want to get people trained up like Medgar Evers trained up his folks, to expand where kids don’t have stable access to hip-hop expression, to further babies knowing they’re beautiful.”

Let Jay know you hear him, check out HipHopForChange.org, and let me know how you think hip-hop can rally kids today at recharge@motherjones.com.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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