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Building Our Own Table: Khafre Jay
Meet the founder of Hip Hop For Change
Hello friends, Khafre Jay is another of those names that keeps popping up in my LinkedIn feed. I enjoy his take on social justice, and I’m especially fascinated by the use of Hip Hop culture as a change agent promoting education, employment, and more. Please meet Khafre.
Khafre, tell me briefly about your background prior to founding Hip Hop for Change.
Prior to founding Hip Hop for Change, I was the first Black Grassroots Director at Greenpeace where I organized thousands of canvassers around the Bay Area. Additionally, I was a local artist and activist for racial justice. In addition to being an activist, I am also a performer and I have had the privilege of sharing the stage with such legends as Rakim, Black Thought, Method Man, and Hieroglyphics, just to name a few.
Give me the elevator pitch for Hip Hop for Change.
Hip Hop for Change empowers marginalized communities by providing education, employment, and resources to preserve the culture of Hip Hop. We dispel negative stereotypes by amplifying positive voices in classrooms, on stages, and in the streets. In order to disrupt the corporate control of our culture, we’re building a global organization to create universal access to the means of producing Hip Hop.
And in more detail?
Hip Hop for Change operates within a three-pronged approach.
First, our educational programs merge social justice issues, socio-emotional learning, and creative expression to create a unique curriculum that addresses the specific needs of marginalized communities throughout the Bay Area and beyond. We implement our programming both virtually and physically in schools. We also host summer camps where we have youth artists in residency get paid to create and share their art, while also becoming leaders in their community.
Second, we provide grassroots organizing jobs to the community, which also acts as a fundraising arm for our organization. These jobs are part of our workforce development program, where participants have the opportunity to advance their careers in a variety of ways. We also employ artists who become our teaching artists for our educational programming.
Last, we host free events for the community that highlight social justice issues and provides a platform for artists who are not participants in the mainstream music industry.
What inequity were you trying to redress/address, and why is this important?
Hip Hop for Change was birthed out of deep frustration with the music industry where three companies own ninety percent of the means of production. These companies perpetuate harmful stereotypes of which suburban white males between the ages of 14 and 35 are the primary consumers.
We address this issue by amplifying the voices of the most marginalized by employing them, giving them stages to perform on and share their message, and providing them with artist management to expand their reach. It is important to stand up for marginalized artists because we know that if we don’t, no one else will. Independent artists face an uphill battle and don’t have nearly as many opportunities to have their voices heard.
How’s it going? What has the response been?
We have received an overwhelmingly positive response as a result of the hard work that we have done within our community. Our work has recently been recognized by the Zellerbach Family Foundation and the San Francisco Symphony, winning both the 2020 William J. Zellerbach Award for Social Change and the Symphony's 2020 Ellen Magnin Newman Award for outstanding arts organization. Additionally, I have been featured with my organization on Mother Jones, The Daily Kos, The SF Chronicle, The Oakland Tribune, POP VULTURE Magazine, and Musicbailout as well as on CBS News, The Black News Network, NBC Bay Area, and PBS NewsHour.
What’s next for Hip Hop for Change?
We are focusing our efforts on expanding our grassroots department into Los Angeles and New York City, then eventually we want to be in 15 major cities nationwide. We are also expanding globally with our educational programming. We just applied for a grant that would send representatives from our organization to Cape Town, South Africa to implement our Hip Hop pedagogy abroad.
Any other interesting ventures coming up for you?
I focus a majority of my time on Hip Hop for Change, but I am also working on my third studio album, which focuses on the Black experience.
In relation to racism, what’s your vision for the future?
Unfortunately, having seen the trends of this country in the past few years, it seems to me that racism is probably going to get worse before it gets better. This nation is in a downward spiral with regards to the uptick of organizing around white supremacy. Hate crimes and domestic terrorism have been on a steady rise since the heinous killing by police of Eric Garner in New York City in 2014. This is why our grassroots organizing is so critical at this time. Our organizers are on the ground educating the community about the fact that white supremacy is still a very real threat to us today.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Background image courtesy of Getty Images - Colors Hunter - Chasseur de Couleurs