By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Hip-hop culture is about transformation. It is more than a global genre of music. Hip-hop is a transcendent cultural phenomena that speaks to the soul, mind, body and spirit of what it means to dare to change the world into a better place. Hip-hop is not just about acquiring funds or “stacking paper.” It is also about giving back. I have personally been a long term advocate for the unbridled intellectual genius and social consciousness of hip-hop.
So when I heard that recently Jay-Z and Beyoncé travelled together to Baltimore, Md. in the wake of the massive “Black Lives Matter” protests, I was not surprised. In fact, I give them both a big thumbs-up salute in gratitude for their leadership example. The impact of the injustice of the horrific police killing of Freddie Gray was profound not only in Baltimore, but also across the nation.
They did not wait for a “cooling off” period before going to the scene of the protests. Jay and Bey also spent some quality time consoling Freddie Gray’s family. Giving back sometimes involves more than financial contributions. Taking sincere acts of solidarity and empathy with those who cry out for equal justice is also a meaningful expression of caring and lending one’s public brand to support the demand for justice.
One of the reasons why I believe that the combined creative talent of this gifted couple will continue to soar with career success is that they both believing in giving back. They give back substantively to their communities in New York, in Texas and throughout the world. From assisting global Red Cross efforts to helping the United Nations to provide safe clean drinking water to millions of people in Africa, Jay-Z and Beyonce continue their transformative philanthropic campaigns.
Of course whenever public icons such as Jay and Bey attempt to help make a difference for besieged and underserved communities, there will always be a cynical group of “player haters.” But all of the negative responses to the goodwill actions of Jay and Bey will in no way be successful in tarnishing their righteous acts of helping others.
I well remember when the Godfather of hip-hop, Russell Simmons, was joined on New York City in 2001 by P. Diddy, Sister Souljah, Queen Latifah, Jay-Z, Will and Jada Smith, and many other hip-hop icons to establish the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) as a nonprofit advocacy organization. The artists decided that the theme of HSAN would be “Taking back responsibility” for the empowerment of families and communities in America and internationally.
Jay-Z and Beyonce have helped HSAN immeasurably over years to register millions of young people to vote and to encourage Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) programs in many cities and states. Again, it was not surprising to hear Jay-Z’s latest rap featuring lyrics about the unjust deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. In classic Jay-Z style, he poetically said, ““You know when I work, I ain’t your slave, right? You know I ain’t shucking and jiving and high-fiving, and you know this ain’t back in the days, right? Well I can’t tell how the way they killed Freddie Gray, right? Shot down Mike Brown how they did Tray, right?”
Beyonce also has a very long list of charities that she supports financially, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Oxfam, UNICEF, Global Poverty Project, and Keep a Child Alive. Yet, probably one of the most private and telling acts that Jay-Z and Beyonce have done over the past year anonymously was the paying of thousands of dollars for the release from jail bails for the hundreds of persons arrested in Ferguson and in Baltimore who were protesting police brutality.
In the 1960s, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, Dick Gregory and many other performing artists and authors would pay the bail money to get hundreds civil rights workers out of jails during the many struggles for equality and justice. Thus, Jay-Z and Beyonce today are continuing that proud tradition of giving to support the causes of freedom, justice and equality.
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.