Rappers and basketball players have always been idolised by young people in the black community. But what happens when someone shakes up these ingrained perceptions? What happens when a Grammy award winning rapper blurs the lines by championing something like education? Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, the legendary ‘Bad Boy’ Hip Hop mogul has done exactly that as he has announced plans to open a charter school in the fall of 2016.
As Barack Obama’s presidency draws to an end, you have to wonder how the average African American may be feeling right now about their future in the seemingly divided country. It’s the ultimate paradox, someone who looks like them can be president – for two terms and be successful; however, they live in a country where many black people still do not have the same basic human rights as their white counterparts such as protection by the police and the ability to exercise their second amendment rights – in July 2016 Philando Castille was murdered by a police officer for carrying a legal handgun and this tragedy, which was captured on social media for the world to see, was the boiling point in a longstanding battle between black people and the police who are meant to protect and serve the community.
With a character like Donald Trump being considered by some as a legitimate presidential candidate, a man who to appeals to the black community by claiming they have ‘nothing to lose’ by voting for him and Hilary Clinton – who once described black youth as ‘super predators' and whose husband implemented the 3 strikes law which led to the disproportionate mass incarceration of vulnerable African Americans for non-violent crimes and led to the destruction of the black family unit in many communities, it is easy to understand why they may feel a little apprehensive about the upcoming election.
It was actually Diddy who made headlines in a recent interview with Reverend Al Sharpton when he said black people should hold their vote in the next election and also claimed that black people were short changed by current US President Barack Obama. However, this perception is not entirely fair. In 2008, history was made and black people were represented in the highest political rank in the world by Barack Obama; although he could not change ingrained hate and systematic racism on his own.
Obama’s whole presidential campaign was centred around change, for which he was the embodiment of and despite America’s current political problems his appointment as President will always signify the greatest change in the established order in history. Before Barack Obama, black people worldwide would have never believed there would be a day they would see a black man in the Oval office – Obama has certainly bucked the trend and inspired a whole generation of Black youth that they too can be president one day. Despite his achievements over the last eight years, there is the growing sentiment among some in the black community that Obama brought a lot of change for other minority groups through actions such as implementing better laws for illegal immigrants in 2014 through his executive order and legalising gay marriage in 2015, but he should have done more for African Americans – this tension point will be debated about for years; long after his presidency ends.
In a country fuelled by inequality yet still priding itself on the capitalist system which solidifies it, in a country that celebrates its first black president like a celebrity but allows the average black man to be harassed by the police daily – America can seem like the land of the paradoxes rather than the land of the free. However, they have the knack of producing some of the world’s greatest talents in sports, acting and music. These figures, particularly in the black community have been using their positions of relative power recently to speak out more against institutionalised racism and police brutality. At award shows such as the BETs, there have been passionate speeches and an outcry of support by celebrities for the Black Lives Matter movement and although this is necessary, you have to question how far this alone will go in being the successful solution to America’s current situation; the whole world is aware of police brutality in America but what is actually being done to end it?
Diddy opening this charter school may be a step in the right direction. Rather than black celebrities just speaking from their positions of privilege (which they have earned through hard work and should continue to speak out against injustices), Diddy is implementing a practical plan to empower black youth in his native Harlem so that one day they will be in a positions of power to change the laws and actually become high ranking officials who rule over their own communities.
The biggest problem with a lot of lower income neighbourhoods in the States is the racial divide between the rulers and the ruled, the police and the people being policed. In the U.S. there are more than 696,000 full-time police officers. The overwhelming majority, 74.7 percent, are white, and 11.9 percent are black. The black youth are angry about the seemingly endless unjust murders of unarmed black teenagers by police officer but their efforts and energy need to be channelled into implementing a systemised plan through education rather than rioting as acts of violence hand officers another excuse to use violence against black people, continue their mistreatment of disenfranchised black youth and sweep it under the rug.
Diddy who grew up on the rough streets of Harlem but is now worth $750m according to Forbes said about the school: ‘It’s “a dream come true for me.’ ‘Capital Prep Harlem’ was inspired by Capital Preparatory Magnet, a year-round school in Hartford that has impressively high graduation and college acceptance rates (for the last 10 years since 2005, 100% of their high school graduates were accepted to college). Their mission is to provide ‘historically disadvantaged students with the college and career readiness skills needed to become responsible and engaged citizens for social justice.’
Initially Diddy’s involvement with the school was kept a secret and founder Dr Steve Perry was reluctant to have the mogul’s involvement with the charter school because of his fame. However, Diddy was persistent and instrumental in bringing the charter school to his hometown according to Perry. The collaboration between the black celebrity elite and the local black community leaders is vital for the prosperity of the community as a whole and ending systematic racism. Now a whole generation of children who may have had windows of opportunities shut in their face because of their backgrounds can receive a top class education and be in a position to work their way up the social ranks for the betterment of their communities - this is equality of opportunity in action.
America is a vast country, the gulf between the average black man and black celebrities who are often recognised for their celebrity before their race is too large. These community projects help to bridge this gap and put young people in a better position in the future so that they can tackle the systematic racism that their community faces by becoming lawyers, civil servants, judges, policemen. We need to ensure that black people are in positions of power in our own communities. We need to be in positions to make the laws and not break them and by providing opportunities such as a better education for children rather than turning to a life of crime Puffy is doing this.
It may seem strange to some that a rapper was so persistent in forcing through an educational programme of this enormity. His creative talents as a producer, video director and Bad Boy label owner are the things that the public believe has led Diddy to major success. Despite dropping out of Howard University, the savvy businessmen still appreciates the importance of education in the struggle for equality for black citizens of America: ‘I’m a person of action, instead of me talking about it, I wanted to go and work with the system and show them a better way to do it…I’m coming to really revolutionise the Junior High and High school levels of education. We have to prepare our children to be leaders.’
Ultimately, knowledge is power and that is why education is so important. Although it is a small step, this is move is certainly one in the right direction. Protesting is important, passionate speeches are memorable but in the long run it is a combination of these two things and educating and empowering the black youth that is going to set in stone the change that many African Americans expected Obama to magically implement by himself as soon as he became President. It is the black influence between the levels of President and the average person in the system which is going to determine the future conditions of black people in America. It is about tearing down the racist establishments which make and oversee the laws which allow black people to remain oppressed and the oppressors to get away with it.
Watch Diddy share more, on MSNBC
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