Category Archives: Social Entrepreneurship

Manifestation Monday: Special Mix By DJ SMii

A number of folks in my life have become ministers, life coaches, healers, spiritual teachers and inspirational speakers. I’m surrounded by reminders to tweak my thoughts and habits. Two of my home girls refer Monday as Manifestation Monday. They speak it, tweet it and believe it so deeply within their souls that it sets their work week in motion in such a powerful way.

I’ve spent the last year and half working with an incredible DJ/Producer to develop my meditation project. We were working with these concepts around transformation, healing and belief so much so that we couldn’t help but start living it.  It’s amazing how that works.  It’s the perfect example of being mindful of the company you keep, words you speak and the thoughts you think.

Well, ladies and gents, brothers and sister, kindreds from near and far away – my DJ has put together an incredible mix of music, sounds and words.  It is the DJ SMii mix for Money Mondays aka MoneyDay! This one is called Money Magnet, and is a 10 minute mix designed to get your mind in alignment with it’s magnetic nature and focus that power toward attracting money. Play it in your car, on the train, while walking or sitting on a park bench. Blast it in your home while making your morning smoothie. If you are interested in conditioning your mind to be more magnetic to abundance, prosperity and money, by all means–whatever you do — Listen.

#thankmelater and have a magnetizing day!

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The Cypher: We Can Use Hip Hop to Prevent Violence

As I read this morning’s headlines I am neither shocked nor disgusted. I am sad, I am hurt but I am not surprised. Between the newscasters who said that rap songs caused slavery, Don Lemon defending the mom of one of the racist fraternity chanters in Oklahoma and the people recording a brutal beating of a teenage girl instead of intervening, I feel like we are living in a Boondocks episode. Someone put me in touch with Dave Chappelle because this stuff needs proper analysis and it’s so raw we need to laugh while we break it down. We need  to laugh to keep from crying.

Dave Chapelle

Over the past two years I’ve been diligently working to get my affairs in order and organize the vision for my life’s work. It has not been easy. After 20 years of facilitating cyphers and cypher workshops I started doing cypher trainings on how to lead nuanced cyphers that create space for transformation. In the wake of the political uprisings this work is too often seen as “soft” and not “real” activism, but I stayed committed to it because it is my ministry, the cypher is my purpose.

The cypher is a circle of sharing. In my new book, Wisdom of the Cypher, I define cypher as representing 360 degrees. It is completion of thought, the continuum, the giving and exchanging of energy, information and ideas. Whenever you see a gathering of artists in a circle or semi-circle formation, whether they are rapping, dancing, telling stories or sharing the spoken word, you are witnessing a cypher.

I proposed a focus on the cypher in two of my residencies this year but it gets inserted into larger programs because administrators and decision makers don’t get that the cypher is its own program. The cypher as I present it deserves its own platform because both youth and adults need a safe space to express themselves from their core.

My cyphers are disguised as freestyle rap, improvisational poetry and impromptu speaking workshops but are really spaces for people to release stress, confront fear and self-doubt, improve critical thinking skills, build vocabulary and confidence, heighten access to creativity and learn to think on their feet. The cypher helps us to build community while providing leaderships development and transformation.

Unable to secure the proper funding, I currently host cyphers out of my home or the home of my partner. We know that the cypher is a sacred space. We know that the best intervention is prevention. We know that as much as we complain about technology, emotional detachment and the lack of human interaction people have nowadays, that we are still human and deep down we long for moments of connection. The cypher reminds us of this need.

Akua Soadwa, founder of the Sista2Sista Summit, reached out to me this morning. Her online comments about the teenage girls fighting and what we need to do to help our youth inspired my commentary. She said that young people are dealing with spiritual warfare and that hurt youth without the right resources and support become angry, uncontrollable youth. Violence happens when people are not able to say what they want to say so they act out physically.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Of course, I am waiting for one of the newscasters to blame the melee at McDonald’s on a rap song. I’m sure that will happen at some point today, but these are the folks that know very little about Hip Hop music and culture. Part of me gets it. Hip Hop still has a stigma and when educated people formulate opinions about it based solely on mainstream media then ignorance will pervade, but I know the richness, the beauty and the spiritual consciousness that Hip Hop provides millions of people around the world. I also know how many lives it has changed and saved. This is why I am promoting the cypher, a concept my work borrows from Hip Hop culture, but is universal and relates to the human experience.

WOTC_SunsetSenegalDec31IMG_1152.jpg

You are a Freakin’ Idealist!

He pointed his finger and with disgust with the words rolling from his lips as he said, “The problem with you is that you are an idealist, a freakin’ idealist!”

A respected music journalist, he hurled the accusation at me.  For some reason it landed as an insult as one of the other men on the panel agreed with him. They laughed and high fived. I remember sitting there on a panel at a Hip Hop conference in Denver not knowing whether or not I was supposed to feel small. Was he questioning my intelligence? Was I wrong for being the way that I am?

Of course, I am witty and have eight years of competitive speaking under my belt so I later came back with the appropriate intellectual jab.  I caught him with his own words, but the sting stayed with me for years.

For two decades my idealism has been soaked, stewed and dipped in Hip Hop. At times it has made for an appetizing, soul feeding experience. Then there were other times where it left me feeling starved.  Even I questioned my ideas and choices. Why did I love this thing that way too often didn’t seem to love me back?

Toni Spittin' & Speaking in Kang, Botswana

Toni Spittin’ & Speaking in Kang, Botswana

There are still many who hear the words Hip Hop and the only thing that comes to mind is the latest “it” rapper or pop rap song but for those of us steeped in the culture it means so much more. This poem I wrote after hearing Kalamu ya Salaam’s poem, “The Blues is Not” inspired the piece below which best explains my perspective.

tagging your heart not walls

 hip hop is not music

it is not dance

it is not djing or writing

it is not rhyming

no voice is needed

hip hop is not beats

it is not the

boom bap, the boom-boom bap

but the way the

boom bap

feels when it vibrates through

ooh

hip hop is not song

nor is it singing

or even speaking

it is not windmills

it is not 12-inch vinyls

or 16-ounce cans of krylon paint

it is tagging

your heart

not walls

it is feeling

it is not hard core

or soft

it is not old school

or new

it is not east, west

or even worldwide

it is within

My idealism keeps bringing me back to the center of who I am and as the years go by I get to know myself even better.  The one thing that I’ve done regardless of circumstances is host and lead ciphers and cipher workshops via Freestyle Union Cipher Workshop and Rhyme like a Girl, both projects I created because I believe in the power of the spoken word, storytelling and rap as an oral tradition. I am just as passionate about the potential of using freestyle (improvisational) rap to promote social responsibility, critical thinking skills, creativity and confidence as I was when I first began in the 90s.

Some outgrow their ideals and some get stuck in them, while others attach to new ones. I am refining mine as I expand and update my vision. I no longer feel insulted by the term and I’ve discovered that I have enough “realist” running through my veins to keep me grounded. It feels good to be grown.  I now love myself as much as I love Hip Hop and have no shame in in being me.

Signed,

Toni Blackman

An Unapologetic Idealist

Click here to support Toni’s work:  http://www.gofundme.com/6mwrcg

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

2011 is unfolding quite lovely

Rhyme like a Girl (RLAG) was launched as a project when I was selected to be an Open Society Institute Fellow with the Soros Foundation.  The organizational structure has changed, but the mission is still the same–to use hip hop as a way to empower girls and women!  Here are a couple of flicks from the day of the video shoot for RLAG’s biggest youth project to date.

“Get Up & Go Tour” BOTSWANA 2010

Toni Spittin' & Speaking in Kang, Botswana

Toni traveled to southern Africa to do U.S. Hip Hop Ambassador work with the “Get Up & Go” project.  The “Get Up & Go Tour” traveled through the north of Botswana November 15-December 1st 2010.  Visit www.africanhiphop.com for the full story.

photo credit: douglas seremane