Sunday Ciphers: Hip-hop Healing The World

For years I’ve wanted to bring what I do around the world back to my hometown, Pittsburg, California. When I met Shannon and Robin, program directors for DLA Literary Arts Program, a community driven hip-hop project, I knew that this would happen.  However, I had no idea that on a Sunday in September we would gather to do God’s work through rhyme.   

Yesterday’s freestyle workshop and master-class was one of my best ever.  When the artists started showing up on a Sunday and on the day of the Seafood Festival, one of Pittsburg’s biggest events of the year, and then a videographer manifested to document the process after I had challenges securing one, I knew that magic was going to unfold. My opening focused on knowing why you do what you do and the idea that the cipher is a sacred space.  When true artists practice improvisation, freestyling can be meditative and heart opening.  It’s not freestyle versus writing, it is freestyle AND writing, it is using improvisation to get centered, to access new levels of creativity, and to release stress.  I also talked about committing to the craft, to making excellence and one’s personal best the goal.

As we got into the exercises and activities the group morphed into a collective sponge.  They soaked up every concept being offered to them.  When participants respond to the facilitator’s guidance in that way it becomes a powerful exchange that feeds the workshop leader’s soul just as much as those who are ‘in’ the workshop.  We were each in the zone.  One of the women MC’s started to tear up during her freestyle, the guys were compassionate but didn’t flinch into patronization or discomfort. I paused to acknowledge that sometimes we cry, that truth can move us so deeply that it triggers emotions, and that we women, we cry and that is ok.  There were a nice range of ages present, a few girls, and a number of different flows and styles. We had such an incredible cipher.

DLA Literary Arts project was born out of a mother’s grief and frustration.  Her son, a young visionary entrepreneur and hip-hop producer/engineer, who built a studio, a business and a crew, was killed in a random act of violence. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Half of the participants were his friends, young people who loved him and counted on the energy of his leadership.  I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that the 2010 murder is just going to trial today.  Chalk it up to Divine Order that our workshop would land the day before.  The co-program director told me they had no idea the workshop would be so uplifting.  Instead of walking out with heavier hearts, the artists and the mother walked out with hope.  Her son’s spirit was all over the room.

It is 5:30am in the morning.  I am awake because my body is still on Eastern Standard Time, but I am sure they too are up early for different reasons.  I cannot imagine what each of them are feeling right now or what this day will bring for them. It is my prayer that they might remember and conjure up the energy of the cipher, to center themselves in the idea that their creative light can still shine and that the legacy of DLA lives and breathes through them, through the mother’s work with this program and through each of the artists every time they hold the mic.

It was an honor to share space with them and to share my time and energy.  I look forward to deepening our work relationship and generating opportunities to do business together.  Hip-hop can be a powerful tool for healing and transformation.  DLA, I give thanks for the reminder- the cipher is indeed a sacred space.

Rest in Peace:  D’Mario Lavelle Anderson

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One response to “Sunday Ciphers: Hip-hop Healing The World

  1. Thank you Toni for your wisdom, guidance, expertise, depth, and most importantly, your energetic loving soul. You encapsulated DLA beautifully. Our mission is continuous. We anxiously look forward to more opportunities to be in your presence as we grow and educate. Our community needs more dedicated mentors like you!

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