Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008

Hip-hop stimulates intergenerational rap session

Music provides launching point for discussion of lyrics between adults and teens

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Members of the Heavenly Steppers from Paint Branch High School (from left) Chika Okorafor, Azah Ndeh, Bianca Davis, Cherelle Dixon and Theresa Akede perform during an intermission at the Hip Hop Unity and Life Youth Forum held Saturday at Wheaton Community Center.
A 1970s classic song highlighted an intergenerational debate on Saturday, as teens challenged adults’ assumptions that modern hip-hop lyrics were more controversial than songs like Marvin Gaye’s ‘‘Let’s Get It On.”

The discussion opened an all-day ‘‘Hip Hop Unity and Life Youth Forum” at the Wheaton Community Center. Teens at the forum, mostly from eastern Montgomery County, were encouraged to speak in a town hall format on what they were most concerned about and how they felt they were viewed by adults.

The adults in attendance — representatives from the county’s police department, the music industry and youth leaders — could then respond on what teens felt were negative perceptions of youth and the hip-hop culture.

‘‘I don’t think it’s really negative,” 15-year-old John F. Kennedy High School student Stefanie Tamsi said of today’s music. Tamsi, a Wheaton resident, said her favorite musicians are female vocalists Ciara and Alicia Keys.

The adults, meanwhile, said songs like ‘‘Let’s Get It On” were less ‘‘aggressive, in your face” than modern hip-hop music.

‘‘It’s not just entertainment. ... We have a tendency to follow,” said musician Huwey Kelly of Silver Spring. ‘‘I feel sorry for our younger generation.”

Damani Davis, a Silver Spring resident who leads a mentoring group called ‘‘Brotherhood” out of Baltimore County’s Towson University and sat on the panel Saturday, said the discussion was helpful in showing the differences across age groups. Panelists also included poet Bassey Ikpi and Naima Jamaal of the Nyumburu Cultural Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.

‘‘The intergenerational dialogue is good. ... You could sense a little bit of conflict there,” said Davis, 20. ‘‘The older people see the way they accomplished things when they were young as the way young people should do things today.”

Ony Ghonda, a 17-year-old Wheaton High School student, said the event was a good way for teens to talk about a specific issue, hip-hop, as a ‘‘big influence” on their actions.

‘‘It does affect what we do,” Ghonda said during a break in the program.

Intermissions were filled by performances from bands and dance groups, including the ‘‘The Heavenly Steppers” from Paint Branch High School, and an opportunity for teens to visit tables covered with flyers on sexually transmitted disease prevention, teen pregnancy and community resources targeted at youth. The event closed with a dinner and teen dance.

The forum was the second sponsored by the county’s recreation and police departments. Jewell Lyons, a specialist with the county’s Department of Recreation, said the first event in September focused on whether abusive language in hip-hop had a negative effect on youth, and how the police department could help youth in trouble.

The next forum, scheduled for May, will be held in Germantown, Lyons said, as the county continues its efforts to relate to teens and communicate with them on topics in which they are interested.

Lt. Porsha Jones and Officer George Stephens, a recruiter with the Montgomery County Police Department, said the forum was a way to show teens that police officers can be approachable. Both participated in the panel discussion on hip-hop, and led a session later on how teens should interact with the police.

‘‘From a law enforcement perspective, I try to tell them that they don’t have to deal with me in a negative manner. I want to help them see the positives. ... That we’re here to help,” Stephens said.

Steve Dambreville, 19, an incoming Howard University freshman, said the event Saturday was a step forward in helping youth and adults understand each another. It was a safe haven, he said, for kids to say what they wanted to and interact with adults on a level playing field.

‘‘The teens have really been able to discuss things they don’t really talk about with their parents, from school to the street,” said Dambreville, a Silver Spring resident.