Muddy Footprints, Hip Hop & Ferguson

10 Different Reasons Hip Hop is Needed Alongside Ferguson

Every time I hear about an officer killing a young black man I think back to that windy Charlottesville, VA afternoon when I was pulled over by an officer. I was 21 years old. I did nothing to warrant this stop. I asked what I was being stopped for and just got the standard “Please give me your license and registration.” To make a long story short… I was asked to get out and stand at the back of the car. This was embarrassing. Ironically, I was an intern at the local juvenile court, but I was not seasoned in my rights (which I now encourage all people to pay more attention to). My trunk was opened and inspected and before I knew it there was a backup police car behind me. It was the K-9 Unit!

Close Encounters of the Worst Kind

All of a sudden the new officer brought around what I have always called The Civil Rights Dog (i.e., German Shepherd), from the images branded in my head as a youth from footage of interactions between police and African Americans during the Era of The Civil Rights Movement.

Police Dog

The officer unleashed the dog inside my car! I actually had important papers for school and my internship on the front seat. The dog jumped around from front seat to the back seat and continuously back and forth, slobbering all over the place, sniffing everything and leaving muddy footprints. After about five minutes of this the dog found nothing and one of the officers finally let him out. That is after it trashed the inside of the car and all of my belongings. No weapons, no drugs, and no other unsavory illegal issues. “You are free to go” were the only words spoken to me.

There were a million opportunities for me to interject during this process, to say something, to physically deny access to parts of my car, or do something that could have provoked a more aggressive response by the officers. And maybe I should have. I wanted to. All of my rights were being violated. I knew it wasn’t right, but did not know my legal rights, which could have made a difference. Maybe it would not have. [Shoutout to Dare to Be King for your Street Law Workshops]. Nonetheless, I recognize that I got off easy compared to Mike Brown and countless others.


That was just one of my less than favorable encounters with law enforcement when I was guilty of nothing. When stories like Ferguson, Missouri show up on the news (or through word of mouth) I can’t help but go back to these moments, and moments that others experienced that deeply affected me. This is our reality. This is the system within which we live. This is part of the story of life, “the talk” that I have to tell and retell my young son and daughter about growing up Black in the United States. But the story does not end here.

From Me to We

My job as a social worker, public health professional, and educator must also address these issues head on. In these roles my goal is to allow youth and young adults to process the full range of perspectives on these issues from immediate forgiveness to the most revolutionary. I must help people understand their own identities, including their knowledge about the issues, attitudes about the issues, and their behaviors related to these issues. Both now and where they want to go.

What do they need to know more about?

How might their attitudes become more refined and nuanced?

My position is to help youth and young people recognize the multiple communities they value and consider themselves a part of, and their ability to participate and lead in these spaces. The goal being a more positive and healthy environment for all involved.

Hip Hop: From Me to We

So when I got an alert from Jayforce App (Shoutout to Jayforce and Odell!) this morning on Talib  Kweli’s 10 Reason’s Hip Hop Artists Should Support Ferguson protests and community actions, I was curious. I know I have my thoughts on the issue, but hadn’t put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard… yet. So I decided to first write down my own ten reasons and then I’d read Talib’s. Here are my first ten reasons:

(1)   Hip Hop, more than any other musical genre, has discussed the multiple and overlapping tensions between law enforcement and the Black community FOREVER. The full criminal justice spectrum is actually touched on through Hip Hop.

Common Issues about the Criminal Justice System in Hip Hop:

police issues 2

(2)   These issues have been a fixed part of the relationship between law enforcement and Black and Brown communities and they will not end with Ferguson, Missouri. The spotlight on these issues will only widen with improvements in technology, social media outlets and the 24 hour news cycle. Ferguson has gone viral and saturated the national psyche as Trayvon Martin’s case did. Many more cases have and will have the potential to do so as well. [Shoutout to Jasiri X and 10 Frisk Commandments (RMX)]

(3)   Dialogue, discussion, and constructive activities must occur with all voices and perspectives at the table, from the “F the Police” sentiments of NWA to the “Be Free” perspective of J. Cole. [Shoutout to #thelistening and of course #HipHopEd for creating soundtracks and a platform for these types of discussions]

(4)   We need the uniqueness of Hip Hop as a culture, and the uniqueness of individual artists to analyze and communicate about these justice issues. Artists are different too. Jay has a different way of analyzing and communicating than Nas. Ye is different than Drake. Talib is unique from Lupe… and on down the line. More importantly, Hip Hop is more than rap artists. We need the art, mixes, and dance in the conversation [Shoutout to LA for Youth/Youth Justice Coalition]. The Turf Feindz piece about Oscar Grant is still one of the most creative and inspiring examples of dance/awareness raising I’ve seen. Shoutout to Yak Films. And check out Remembering Trayvon. We also need the entrepreneurs to step up too.

justice sign

(5)   We need youthful energy to connect to all aspects of this issue in highly visible ways.

(6)   We need other artists to feel it is okay to step into the arena. Yes, it would be great if everyone operated on their own and was bold enough to take an unconventional stance when necessary, but many people need “permission” of sorts and a role model to take a chance.

(7)   Similarly, labels need to role model for other labels that sometimes a brand will have to take a hit for being unconventional, and that there are creative ways to allow artists to be authentic.

(8)   We need to push the status quo so that law enforcement and the Hip Hop community feel that there is actually a road forward and the possibility for positive change.

(9)   We need more functions, events, celebrations and fun around solidarity and unity in Hip Hop, things that allow healing to take place.

Hands togetther

(10)     We have ambassadors of Hip Hop culture in classrooms (shoutout to #HipHopEd and Dr. Chris Emdin), after school programs, counseling/therapy spaces, [Check out Beats, Rhymes and Life (CA); Words, Beats and Life (DC); and PATH (FL) and homes all over this country that can use as many tools and resources as possible to help connect with youth in creative ways.

Now I’m going to check out Talib’s list

Dr. Raphael Travis Jr., LCSW is Executive Director of FlowStory, PLLC and Better ATX, LLC. He is also an Associate Professor at Texas State University. FlowStory exists to work with YOU in your efforts to help youth and young adults reach their potential. The goal is to support young people’s natural instincts to better their lives… to feel better, do better, be better, & have a better sense of belonging while making the communities they value better. While FlowStory provides information and consultation about the theory, research, and specific youth work strategies, BETTER ATX provides the hands-on tools and resources created by FlowStory. All projects, activities and resources are research-driven.

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