Can Hip-Hop and Politics Work Together?

Thought leaders rally to inspire the next generation of activists.

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Members of the Hip-Hop and Politics panel at the CBCF conference (Courtesy of CBCF)

(The Root) -- On Friday, there was music in the message at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 43rd annual legislative conference. During a panel entitled "Hip-Hop and Politics," hosted by Radio One personality Amos Brown, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus, Global Grind's Michael Skolnik, IMPACT's Angela Rye, Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee, MC Lyte, Run DMC's DMC and Rep. André Carson discussed how to invigorate and inspire potential political activists.

"We cannot come to our people with a spirit of charity, but we must come with a spirit of solidarity," Yearwood told the packed audience. "If I fail, you fail, if you fail, I fail ... This is not a game ... Either we shape policy or policy will shape us."

Skolnik, Russell Simmons' political director and a white civil rights activist, proposed action.

"I challenge white people with this: If we can walk down the street and no white lady will clutch her purse ... If we can do that as white people and take that for granted, our rights are not worth it," he said, urging supporters to work uniformly for social change regardless of race. "I come as an ally, I recognize my white privilege. The people on this panel raised me and we wouldn't be political if it wasn't for them."

The conversation also steered toward pulling in young people who might not have access to a college classroom, as Yearwood urged thought leaders to "take people where they are."

Others said that change must come from the musicians themselves because today's youth have been groomed to be motivated by entertainment.

"We have a whole lot of soldiers afraid to pick up their weapons ... We have to educate our youth," Lyte said. "We put people in positions of power, and they have to stand for something ... This generation isn't standing up because who they're listening to isn't standing up."

Among those in the audience were New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, activist Jeff Johnson, Texas Rep. Mark Veasey, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, New York Rep. Yvette Clark, News One Now host Roland Martin and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.

Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York City bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.

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