On Tuesday, April 12, The Root joined sister network Fusion and Univision's new music vertical, TrackRecord, in Albany, N.Y., for a Hip Hop 4 Human Rights concert to help end solitary confinement. The show brought out hip-hop artists Chi Ali, Ahmen, Peter Gunz, Mysonne and DJ Kay Slay, as well as activists such as Ricky Jones (of the Harlem Restoration Project) and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. (of the Hip Hop Caucus), all to promote positive changes in the justice system.
Here are five things we learned from attending the event:
1. Solitary confinement is a controversial issue.
When we originally posted the story of rapper Chi Ali, who did 12 years for murder, he shared why fighting against solitary confinement meant something to him. He went through it while he did his time. We received a lot of comments that showed no regard for the prisoners' plight: "Well, when you commit a crime, expect consequences"; "I am not sure the African-American community should spend their political capital on this particular issue. We have much more serious issues that need our immediate attention." There was no compassion for prisoners who may not have done anything to get placed in solitary confinement, which some would argue is one of the most inhumane things you can do to anyone. Watch Chi Ali's story about solitary confinement here.
2. There's such a thing as Street Corner Resources, and it's amazing!
We met activist Iesha Sekou, the founder and CEO of Street Corner Resources. The mission of Street Corner Resources is to create a more peaceful community by providing teenagers and young adults with greater access to real employment, education, training and other resources to assist them as they strive for success.
She found out in doing this work that young people were quickly entering prison and being locked away into solitary confinement. If they were released back into society, more often than not it didn't take long for them to be placed in prison again. Her organization is here to help break the cycle.
3. Peter Gunz is still hated, even when he has a cause.
Peter Gunz rose to fame as a hip-hop artist with the hit "Déjà Vu" but quickly fell from grace as the biggest villain on the VH1 reality show Love & Hip Hop. His playboy ways and tendency to get women pregnant at the same time made him a target. However, who knew he had a cause! He attended the event to speak out against solitary confinement, and The Root interviewed him live on-site. The comments dragged him into oblivion. Gunz said that he wasn't going to attend because he didn't want a negative light shone on the event, but he just had to show his support.
4. Live paintings make any event awesome.
Painter Demont Pinder attended the event and did a live painting during the show. He used the energy of the show to guide him into painting a gorgeous mural, featuring a young black man in jail. It sounds sad, but it was a beautiful display of something horrific. The touches of gold in the painting give off royal vibes, and there's nothing more awesome than knowing that black people have been, are and can be royal.
5. We don't have the right to do nothing.
Rapper Mysonne performed and not only rapped but also did spoken word and repeated the powerful phrase, "I don't have the right to do nothing." This means that one of our biggest responsibilities as black people is to do something because "revolution is a part of evolution." Mysonne said that his forefathers weren't given restitution but, rather, destitution, so now, with the many liberties that we have, it's our right, and responsibility, to do something.