Can We Get a Belafonte?

           Not too long ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Dusable Museum of African American history in Chicago. The museum had exhibits covering ancient African kingdoms, the history of blacks in the armed forces, the progression of gospel music, and more. In one exhibit there was a poster that I walked by and quickly did a double take. It was a promotional poster for an event that had a star-studded cast with the likes of Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Dick Gregory, and Mahalia Jackson. What was the event you ask? It was a fundraiser promoted by none other than Martin Luther King Jr. (the keynote speaker for the night) and the SCLC to raise funds for civil rights work in Chicago.

            I was so impressed with that lineup as it consisted of some of the top stars at that time. Seeing it also reminded me of some of the works of MLK I read where he spoke highly of Harry Belafonte and his support in the civil rights movement. Belafonte would become a key resource to assist king financially and visibly promoted his endeavors. I thought to myself about how awesome it was to have celebrities use their platforms for that movement. They could have easily sat back in their mansions and played the safe card to not hurt their images in the entertainment industry. They could have took the “safe negro” approach but instead they got their hands dirty by joining their people in the struggle. They owned it, and used the influence they had to assist in making a difference.

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Harry Belafonte greets Martin Luther King Jr. (right) at a 1965 civil-rights march in Montgomery, Alabama.

Fast forward some 50 years later and where are our celebrities? Now I’m not saying that our rich and famous do not give to charities and meaningful causes. I’m not claiming to have investigated all of their financial statements.  I also know of some who step to the forefront as advocates for different issues, but something still seems to be missing. It just doesn’t seem to compare to that poster I saw that was just a snippet of the work done by those famous men and women. In a day and age where celebrities are placed on pedestals probably more so than any other time period, I don’t see the use of platforms for the advancement of our people.

In a culture where the masses hang on the every word of the famous and follow their every move, I don’t see our celebrities taking advantage of this fact to speak to the problems that plague us. In a society where the famous can be so easily accessible through social media, it just seems that more of what is said and done hurts us rather than helps us. Where are the actors like Poitier or Belafonte? The entertainers like Mahalia Jackson or Dick Gregory? Where are the music artists like the James Browns or Marvin Gayes who will write anthems to inspire our generation? Where are the athletes like the Jim Browns or Muhammad Alis who will use their platforms to stand for what is right and be vocal about injustice in this country and the world? To whom much is given, much is required. Our celebrities have been given so much influence today that it’s mind-boggling! I pray they will use it for good.

~Stephen J. Taylor

Dear Mr. Rapper: A helpful tip if it’s just entertainment

Dear Mr. Rapper,microphone07

I will be honest with you up front; I am not pleased with the music industry. The lyrical content from hip-hop songs that promotes these misogynistic, violent, hedonistic, and reckless mentalities is truly disturbing.  The disappointing part of it all is that I grew up in the hip hop generation and still feel as if it’s my music, but you can only nod your head to a good beat and a nice flow for so long before the hoes, mollies, and bang bangs start to wear on you. Now, there are some of your industry mates that bring some hope to the genre, but I don’t see the majority taking note. There’s a lot that can be said about rap music (and over time will be said) but in this letter I want to address this common statement I hear from rappers, that their music is “just entertainment”.

At various times this argument has been made where listeners were told to “calm down” or to “not take things so seriously” because again the music is for listening pleasure not a guide to reality. Now some may ask, how can promoting drugs, violence, and exploiting women be viewed as entertainment? This indeed is a good question but one can’t forget about the violent and sex filled movies and TV shows we entertain ourselves with night in and night out.

trainingdayNow Mr. Rapper, before you think that I’m making an argument for your craft, my mentioning of TV and movies is for a reason. My advice to you Mr. Rapper is to take note of your fellow entertainers from the world of film. For instance, we all know that Denzel Washington is not a crooked cop in LA, or a pilot with a drinking problem, or a high school football coach during integration, or a civil rights activist from the 60’s. We know this because when Denzel leaves the movie set his name ceases to be Detective Alonzo Harris , Whip Whitaker, Coach Boone, or Malcolm X. Once the director says cut, he’s back to Denzel Washington and done playing the part of his characters. When we see him on interviews, award shows, late night TV, or if we even get the privilege to meet him in person, he’s Denzel, his true self. No one will run up to him and thank him for inspiring them when he went to the lengths of holding people in a hospital hostage in order to get his son medical treatment, because they know he didn’t do that in real life.

But with you Mr. Rapper it’s different and therefore quite confusing. When you leave the studio or video shoot, you go by the same name and you stay in character. We see you on interviews, award shows, and late night TV and you still keep the same persona. If it was just entertainment maybe it would help if you came out of character. This will help people separate the reality from fiction. It’s also confusing Mr. Rapper when you stay in character to the point of getting arrested, starting beefs that turn violent and at times deadly, and even go to prison for the same stuff you rap about in your songs. You deserve acting accolades for your performances and praise for the lengths that you are committed to your “entertainment”.  So in closing, if it’s just for show and not real, come out of character, use your birth name and real persona. Help people, especially these young kids out here see that it’s not real…unless it really isn’t entertainment. Then Mr. Rapper, I think we have a serious issue on our hands.

Sincerely,

Concerned Music Enjoyer

~Stephen J. Taylor