PHOTOS | Rapper Chuck D refocused MLK Day from past to present

Augsburg Convocation used hip hop to connect with student audience 

(All photos by Chris Juhn)

Working collectively, knowledge, and the support of local artists were at the center of Chuck D’s message as he spoke to a crowd gathered at Augsburg’s MLK Convocation: Race, Rap & Reality on MLK Jr. Day, Monday, January 18. Hosted by Augsburg’s chapter of Save the Kids, “a fully-volunteer national grass-roots organization dedicated to alternatives to and the end of incarceration of all youth and the school to prison pipeline,” according to their website, the event also featured performances by Madiba, American Idol contestant Dahlia Jones, Truth Maze, and Malick Ceesay.

While those in attendance showed up to hear Chuck D’s words of wisdom, the Public Enemy legend made it very clear that he was in attendance to see the local acts before him. His excitement was noticeable as he jumped to his feet and snapped photos of the acts smiling from ear to ear.

Sha Cage a delivered heartfelt performance
Sha Cage a delivered heartfelt performance.

It seemed that the hip hop pioneer had a special appreciation for Madiba’s artistic delivery and unique sound. Comprised of E.G. Bailey, and Sha Cage, and featuring Truth Maze, Madiba delivered heartfelt expressions on the topics at the heart of the current movement taking place in the city — police brutality in connection with mortality of young Black boys in our community.

The audience could barely sit still as Madiba called out the names of young people that lost their lives at the hands of the police, and as Maze wowed the crowd with his astonishing beat-boxing ability. As for Dahlia Jones, who performed an acoustic rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On,” Chuck D said she was “too da** good for American Idol.”

Aside from the performances, and Chuck D’s reception of each of them, the keynote speaker had so much more he wanted to share with the audience, like the importance of traveling the world, understanding geography, and the importance of supporting local artists.

“One thing that really got to me was his identification that [the U.S.A.] is not America,” said Augsburg Senior Erickson Saye. “It just got me thinking of the whole concept of race, and just people that identify with how the government has put this stigma on you, like ‘Oh you’re Black, oh you’re White.’”

Robert Harper, Augsburg senior and football teammate of Saye, added that he didn’t understand why we have so many boundaries. “Like when [Chuck D] talked about being Black and then being African or African American — not separating yourself from people that have the same heritage as you,” said Harper.

Other concepts Harper, Saye, and others that MSR was able to catch up with caught onto is the importance of working together as a collective, respecting and understanding that the “old heads” are still very useful and have a role in the movement for equal rights, and the chronic need of everyone knowing what’s going on around them. “Paying attention is the cheapest price to pay folks,” Chuck D said.

“I didn’t expect anything less than what he said,” says Rainy Fall. “[Hip hop] was our way of expressing ourselves and expressing what was going on around us.”

Ironically, during the MLK Convocation, King was acknowledged, but he was not heavily focused on. Instead, every speaker chose to speak on how the tragedies of today relate to the injustices 30 years ago during the hip hop movement, and over 60 years ago during the Civil Rights Movement.

MSR spoke with the president of the Augsburg chapter of Save the Children, Reis Francisco Romero, who will be graduating from Augsburg this this spring with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Romero said he was determined to bring Chuck D or any other socially conscious rapper like Ice Cube or Rakim.

Attendees enjoyed speakers, music and break dancing
Attendees enjoyed noted speakers, music and dancing.

When asked why a hip hop artist, Romero responded “Hip hop is the sound of the street, it’s the sound of the youth. It’s the sound of culture. It’s the sound that will never die. It’s always reinventing itself.”

When asked about the event, Romero said “It’s going to take me a while to conceptualize everything. I’m glad we did it, I’m glad it’s over, but now the real work starts. As [Chuck D] was saying, it’s not about him, it’s about us, and coming together as a collective and posse up and really fighting our common enemy, which is White Supremacy, and really putting in the work…doing the work every day no matter what race you are, gender identity or sexuality. We have to work together to end this miserable condition on this earth.”

Others shared Ramero’s sentiments, and Chuck D’s words of starting close to home and local. How local? Well, Harper and Saye are starting as local as Augsburg College, and as small as the athletic department. The two say they are in the process of starting a new student organization for athletes — specifically athletes of color — that will allow them to openly speak about injustices.

Harper points out that while the college is known for its diversity, he’d like to see a more diverse faculty and coaching staff, stating that he recently attended a NCAA conference and saw mostly White men.

He then explained that within a college sports program “there’s not a dynamic where Black athletes can go and feel comfortable that the coaches understand their viewpoint [when] talking about things that are happening in our community.”

Although Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a great day of reflection, as is Black History Month, it was refreshing to attend a public event that focused little on the past work, and more on the work still needed to be done in order to continue the pursuit of achieving the dream.


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