Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Front man for Public Enemy in Huntsville, Alabama
Unprecedented Intervention for Students from Mr. Chuck D.
Mr. Chuck D., humanitarian, activist, and frontman for Public Enemy came to Huntsville, Alabama, and impacted over 350 youth ranging from middle school to college students last month on November 4, 2022. The topic was gun violence and conflict resolution. Three key points are mentioned here over the many that resonated with me about his student message. This was a semi-private session where students were bussed in at the discretion of their public school leaders. A few notables in attendance included first and foremost each student, County Commissioner Victoria Edwards, the chief police investigators, high university officials, Channel 19, newspaper photographers, journalists, and Carlos Mathews, president of the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education who gave the Rising South organizers his nod of approval for this unprecedented intervention. Rising South collaborated with Alabama A&M University to have the event take place on their campus. There was no charge to students or the university, as Rising South picked up the tab. People took an interest in Mr. Chuck D.’s visit because the gun violence phenomenon has impacted citizens nationwide in some fashion, especially in impoverished communities all across the United States.
As such, the Stomp the Violence: A Message for Sleeping Giants program emerged because a gap in human services exists. Considering the recent news of multiple accounts of gun violence against Black men like Migos rapper, Takeoff who was shot by another Black man in some bizarre dice game beef, the time for intervention is now. The high profile murders represent a mere fraction of the slain in an era where Black men between the ages of 15-34 die by homicide more than any other cause (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). To further add insult to the murderous level injuries, Black-on-Black homicide now makes up 93% of all Black male homicides. Taken together with law enforcement's so-called justified homicide, acts of White supremacy, and other lynchings, the literature indicates there has never been a time in the history of the United States that Black men did not die disproportionately as compared to any other group.
To explain this stained backdrop, one school of thought asserts structural racism is the culprit for the vast gun violence disparities, and yet another school of thought focuses on cultural factors, linking rap music to violent outcomes. Notwithstanding the presence of structural racism, the cultural factor is precisely why Mr. Chuck D., an original rapper, was invited to address homicidal travesties. So, we were blessed to put Mr. Chuck D. before students and we allowed said students to ask him unscripted questions about the industry and his own influence. Without being bashful, Chuck D. seized the microphone and walked away from the podium to the center of the students and had earnest conversations with them.
Key Point #1 Students should hold rappers accountable
According to Mr. Chuck D., more rappers should speak to students and answer tough questions about their lyrics. Chuck D. asserted many rappers today would be hard-pressed to justify the debauchery in their music given that rap music over time has been linked to dangerous rivalries and bloodshed. Commissioner Victoria Edwards weighed in by revealing to the students that she grew up on Public Enemy’s music and was never instructed to harm, divide, or flex against her peers -all items that can induce conflict. Mr. Chuck D. provided balance by discussing the starving artist syndrome’s reality that insists rappers are not always fully in control of which of their songs will be produced and financially backed in the industry. In other words, many young rappers adopt an image of hardness and thug life to sell records in an industry where the drug culture sells.
With everyone needing to eat, from the record producers with the financial backing to the artist with compromising lyrics, Michael Landon Jr.’s words ring true that “Entertainment and art have power. Our culture is molded more so by entertainment than any other influence.” Mr. Chuck D. instructed the students to be mindful of what they create. Chuck D. explained that small pockets of “woke” rappers are not sufficient when the death toll is climbing. Chuck D. captured the audience’s full attention -bearing witness to the words of Al.com’s journalist Matt Wake who asserted, “When Chuck D. speaks, people listen.”
Key Point #2: Older family members should be watchful and prevent students from having gun access.
At the heart of his lecture, Mr. Chuck D. introduced another key point by exposing other influences in the lives of students like caregivers and store owners. Mr. Chuck D. reiterated to WHNT News Channel 19, “This is not a youth problem. How did they get access to guns? Who is manning the stores?” Mr. Chuck D.’s question sheds light on the shameful, yet whispered intergenerational tragedy that has no end in sight. The statistics bleed the dreadful ink from the columns of the National Statistics of Vital Health announcing that Black boys between the ages of 5-9 have homicide as the 4th leading cause of death, and Black male youth between the ages of 15-24 have the highest rate of homicide than any other group in the United States (CDC, 2020). Unfortunately, parents who are forced to rear their children in disenfranchised and impoverished hotspots with diminished support systems may have also suffered adverse outcomes such as incarceration, low education, diminished enhancements in their socioeconomic lives, and even homicide.
Mr. Chuck D.’s caregiver reminder resonated deeply because age-appropriate defenses to victimization must be considered. Just as a two-year-old cannot be held responsible for running out into traffic, a minor child should not have access to gun traffic. Moreover, one’s emotional intelligence age, coupled with urban circumstances is also impacted by socioeconomic barriers that are directly related to decision-making and errors. Socially and emotionally immature adolescents are victims if adults (i.e., older cousins, store owners, parents) facilitate their access to guns. Because predominantly Black neighborhoods are characterized by environmental factors that place youth at risk and exposure to violence, caregivers would likely benefit from mentors and community gatekeepers to aid in the influence of the impressionable youth.
There is a passage in Hidden Princess: The Rebirth of Making Mary that specifically addresses the role of caregivers during the victimization of the youth. In the excerpt, the father and mother each place some degree of blame on the daughter and each other for her entanglement with her private suitor, a 32-year-old man. The truth in that is in the strength of the child’s own mind even when faced with exploitation by older caregivers and outside agencies. The next and last point for today is about the strength of a youth’s mind.
of a youth’s mind.
Key Point #3: Students must avoid conflicts by using the strength of their own minds.
I will close with how Mr. Chuck D. started -not only his words but his experience and feelings about coming from California to Alabama. It was significant that he placed the scenario into perspective as an outsider. Chuck D. gently informed students that the violence among them was unnatural and that we should not be having a gun problem in a remote area in the scheme of our map. “So many have never heard of Huntsville. Why are guns in the hands of the youth here?” His face was laced with the realization that the unthinkable happened. Mr. Chuck D. discussed the predicted spread of gun violence back in the 1980s. Now, a new, oblivious generation had been groomed into a manufactured, spiraled reality. Alas, the message was and is for sleeping giants, indeed. Mr. Chuck D. told a unique truth when he dropped to the students “Your minds are being sought after. Cultivate and protect your minds.” He empowered the students to be resilient about the grim reality of bottomless violence by explaining their strengths, responsibilities, and resources. In short, he offered them a way out of future conflicts by using the strength of their own minds. There was practical application because, at the end of the day, students and others presented their conflict resolution strategies on canvas, into poems, dance, and spoken word in front of Mr. Chuck D., empowering one another. Seeds have definitely been planted, bringing us one step closer to bringing awareness about gun violence to our youth.