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Making it much easier - The story of the Hip Hop Congress

by Cayce Callaway Friday, Apr. 27, 2001 at 1:23 AM
Cayce9@hotmail.com

New group making progress in the world of social justice.

Good things can happen when people hang out together, read and drink beer. Like, for instance, the Hip Hop Congress, a year-old organization spawned at USC during just such a session. Jordan Bromley and his pal Ron Gubitz came up with the idea after Ron returned from a Hip Hop conference where he had a near religious experience with hip hopper Mos Def. After a performance, Gubitz approached the rapper and said "Hey, I'm a white Jewish kid from Bloomington Indiana , how do I fit into hip hop?" Mos Def looked at him and said "you're here right now." Ron came back from the conference with a vision that he shared with Jordan. Jordan laughs as he recollects his response. "Yeah, whatever, if you ever need help, let me know." He chuckles again, "I remember saying that."

The joke is that Jordan, a senior English/Creative Writing major at USC, now spends the bulk of his days on the endeavor that he sees as boosting consciousness through the message of hip hop. After launching a website (www.hiphopcongress.com) and fleshing out their philosophy, the group filed for non-profit status and started to branch out, adding 14 chapters around the country in less than a year, including one at Columbia, Brandeis, Umass at Amherst and Indiana.

Their work revolves around what they see as a growing enlightenment sweeping the hip hop movement. He differentiates between what he calls "conscious hip hop" and "gangsta rap" although he's quick to point out they both have their place in the awareness raising Hip Hop culture. Of the former, he says, people start off listening to the music and then come around to hearing the lyrics. Of the later, he sees the media criticism as misplaced, targeting the artists who are responding to their surroundings rather than the unjust political and social

systems in which they live. "Why are we going against people who are telling everybody else how it's going instead of going against the people who are making it happen?"

Their website is dotted with quotes by artists ranging from Mos Def and Talib Kweli to Bob Marley, the musician Bromley credits with being "the philosophy of Hip Hop." Marley's quote "Don't forget your history. Know your destiny." is front and center on the home page. The message of Hip Hop, Jordan says, delivered in a variety of beats and techno gymnastics, "changes people."

Indeed, the website is looking to do just that. Links lead to pages as diverse as Science, Music and Words of Life, a page with a brief statement about the beliefs of most of the world's major religious practices. The icon that reads "Think" has a rollover graphic that pops up "Think for Yourself." The site is updated often and offers information as varied as concert dates around the country, book reviews and the content of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

On a practical level, they are seeking to establish themselves as a "clearinghouse" for groups working for social justice, equality and awareness. "We'd like to be the hub that people come to in order to start doing something in their community." He sees them as a "network of programs we get people to and a network of people we start programs with," equipping groups with the confidence working within a larger network can provide. They have two mainstay events - the Awareness Festival, a lunchtime gathering at a public venue where students/workers have the opportunity to meet and talk to representatives of established socially conscious groups (the USC event allowed hundreds of students to talk to 30 different organizations) and the Elements Show, a concert-like blend of dancing and rap, often, as was the case with the recent LA event, showcasing local talent.

If their first year is any indication, they should be very successful in their drive to disseminate awareness. Their well-planned functions go off without a hitch, lacking the muddled organization that often plagues other similar events. With their youth, passion and idealism as a driving force and natural organizers like Bromley guiding the helm, they truly should achieve their goal of "making the world a better place."

The last paragraph on their home page finishes with another Marley quote, "If you get down and quarrel every day, you're saying prayers to the devils I say. Why not help one another on their way? Makes it much easier." Words the Hip Hop Congress means to live by.

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